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Impunity in the streets on Friday the 13th

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That is what killed veteran journalist and University of the Philippines professor Ma. Lourdes Simbulan – or Chit Estella to her media colleagues – and ended a brilliant and compassionate life dedicated to what many people these days consider to be that nebulous idea of the public interest.

But it is a different kind of impunity.

It is an impunity that has thrived on decades of government incompetence and neglect and is exacerbated by the exploitative conditions maintained by transportation companies driven by sheer profit motives.

It is one whose viciousness the same public Chit had sought to serve faithfully as a journalist has learned to take with a resigned shrug on the shoulders. “Why did her life end this way?” said a friend as we tried to find our way close to midnight Friday to the funeral home where Chit’s remains were brought a few hours earlier after she was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Half-jokingly she broached the idea that perhaps, journalists can all agree to write a common story about the tragedy by saying that it was all part of a sinister plot to silence an irrepressible advocate of the accountability to the public of certain officials in government.

My friend’s was not a unique reaction to the tragedy. Indeed, many of Chit’s colleagues felt that her death seemed to have rendered all that she was and all that she worked for to puny insignificance.

Here was a journalist who had tilted at the windmills of Martial Law, only to perish in a seemingly senseless car crash – yet another victim of the recklessness that has turned Commonwealth Avenue into the country’s Death Avenue. Ah, had Chit become just another statistic collected by responsible government agencies to justify budget increases rather than a well-lived life cut short by a tragic but heroic death?

I beg to disagree.

How she died cannot trump how she lived. The seeming senselessness of her death does not for a moment diminish her purposeful and fruitful life as a wife, sister, friend, reporter, editor and mentor. Perhaps, that is all really beside the point.

But I rail at suggestions she was thus fated; the forces of sheer bad luck conspired to snuff out her life, just like that.

The fugitive bus driver that delivered the cruel and deadly blow that busy early Friday night is a repeat offender, authorities now say. If so, why didn’t the authorities suspend his license? Why didn’t the company who hired him fire him for being a danger to himself and to society?

Chit’s car crash isn’t the first on Commonwealth Avenue attributable to reckless bus drivers. It wouldn’t be called Death Avenue if that were the case.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) says 405 accidents had taken along the “killer highway” in the first four months of 2011. It is however quick to point out that the current figure is smaller compared to the 872 accidents that happened in the same period last year. Three died in accidents along the avenue from January to April this year, two deaths fewer than the five deaths recorded for the same period last year.

But do they expect us to jump for joy over these statistics of supposedly declining deaths and accidents?

You wonder why despite the threat of suspension on companies of erring buses the deaths continue to happen and the reckless impunity does not stop. It has now come to a point when human life does not anymore matter, certainly not to bus companies.

These companies continue to perpetuate a “boundary system” that drives these bus drivers to throw all caution to wind and to race like hell to meet the day’s income quota.

That our responsible regulatory agencies have allowed this anomaly to continue unchecked year after year could only be the result of monumental incompetence or a cozy transactional relationship between regulatory officials and bus owners or both.

Impunity begins with one act of recklessness, one corrupt decision to shield the guilty, one moronic policy perpetuated by mediocrity in government. Over time, it is repeated over and over again, branches out into other corrupt acts and eventually transforms into a complex and corrupt structure of interacting habits, decisions and actions – an entire culture, monstrous and yes, deadly.

No, Friday the 13th didn’t kill Chit. Impunity did.

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Written by Romel

May 19, 2011 at 4:06 am

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