“(A refiled bill) must state that the PTSB will only step in to assist in any transportation accident investigation when line agencies make a request or when these line agencies are not competent to handle a more complex investigation”
Senator Grace Poe was quoted as saying, it was unfortunate the Philippine Transportation Safety Board bill was vetoed by the President.
From what was reported in media, reason the bill was vetoed was mainly due to perceived duplication of functions.
It appears that Malacanang did not want the BTSB to be investigating transportation accidents because that function is already performed by various government line agencies.
I tried to find a copy of the bill actually vetoed but could not find any.
But I came across the rationale behind the filing of the bill in Congress. Although the intended law mentions all transportation accidents involving all modes like road, rail, air and sea, majority of the justifications given were on road accidents. This being the case, I could understand why the bill was vetoed.
I assume, however, that the intention of the proponent of the law was not to concentrate on road accidents.
If I understand the intention of Congressman Edgar Sarmiento, the principal proponent of the bill, the proposed PTSB was patterned after the Transportation Safety Board of the United States which investigates transportation accidents that normally cannot be handled by local authorities like catastrophic airplane crashes involving the death of dozens of people if not hundreds.
Some of the many ships that the country have lost at sea with thousands of lives on board were, for instance, never satisfactorily investigated to everyone’s satisfaction. This is where the proposed PTSB could come in.
Based on my experience, many of the line units are not capable of conducting highly complicated and technical investigations. There is therefore an urgent need for a PTSB.
The bill should be refiled specifically stating that the intentions of the law is not for the proposed PTSB to take over functions currently being performed by other agencies but to perform specialized investigative work that current line agencies cannot perform.
This will be similar to the relationship that exist between the National Bureau of Investigation with the Philippine National Police.
One can argue that that the PNP and the NBI are performing the same functions and one should therefore be abolished. But both agencies are complementing each other, thereby strengthening law enforcement.
This is what a future PTSB should be and the refiled bill should be very clear on this.
It must state that the PTSB will only step in to assist in any transportation accident investigation when line agencies make a request or when these line agencies are not competent to handle a more complex investigation.
As an illustration, the Land Transportation Office, for instance, hardly conducts any routine traffic accidents investigation because this is being handled by the Philippine National Police, depending on where the traffic accident occurred.
There are, however, some vehicular accidents that are more complex that the local police will be unable to handle.
In such a case, a request can be made for the PTSB to come in and assist in the investigation.
In a rail accident, for example, there is currently no agency competent to handle any rail accident investigation in case there is a need.
Of course, we do not have an extensive rail network system wherein we have experienced accidents such as derailment. But as a country, it does not mean that we should not have the capability. Air crashes is another.
We have had several airplane crashes in the past and I have not come across any publication of any investigation report.
For instance, that C130 military plane crash two or three years ago that killed dozens of civilians and military personnel. We do not know exactly the official cause of the crash.
Was it technical or pilot error? Again, this is where the PTSB can come in.
Many shipping accidents that we had, to my mind, have really never been satisfactorily investigated to everyone’s satisfaction.
Take the case of the sinking of the Super ferry on February 27, 2004. The ship sank due to an alleged bomb explosion, killing 116 people.
Although terrorism was suspected. no investigation report was ever published to this day and we do not know whether it was a planted bomb that sank the ferry.
Another is the Dona Paz sinking on June 8, 2008 that killed more than 4,000 people – the worst shipping accident in Philippine history.
All this is simply telling us that there is a need for PTSB. The problem was that this was not made clear in the proposed law.
Congress should refile the bill correcting what were missed and adding the delineation of functions between the proposed PTSB and the existing functions of the line agencies.
Whether we like it or not, we will unfortunately be experiencing catastrophic transportation accidents involving various modes in the future.
It is time the country started modernizing its technical investigative capabilities so we can join the modern investigative world.