“Utod! Utod! Pangasugan! Pangasugan”

are the shouts we often hear the moment we step out of the university gates at the market and at the school main entrance. They either crowd at the two waiting sheds near the Obelisk or at the vacant lot near the market. The drivers wear shades, caps or bonnets, long-sleeve shirts and conventional blue jeans. And with them are their ‘bikes’ of different colors, styles and brands. Introducing our new mode of transportation (not a high-tech cab or bus), our two-wheel vehicles which start to dominate the roads, (tentenenen)… “HABAL-HABAL”.

Nowadays, habal-habals seem to be the new face of public transportation in Baybay City. We have buses, multicabs, taxis, jeepneys, MRTs and LRTs and vans in the country; and now we have them. They are not only present in our dear place. They are present in other parts of the nation as well.

Here in our place, with just a minimum fare of five pesos, a habal-habal can take you directly to your destination covered by the fare, unlike multicabs which do long stop-overs for additional passengers. They could also drop you to some other places, for a higher price of course. You don’t have to stay in the waiting shed for some time and wait for the bus to pass by, or wait in a cab ’til it’s full. With them, you also save yourself from the tiring walks within the interiors of Pangasugan, Patag or Guadalupe. They’re also available even at a later time. Buses and cabs are off at around 8:45 pm, but habal-habals are still present as late as 11:00 pm. You can still get home, again with a higher fare. Sometimes they are unreasonable, taking advantage of those who really are eager to get home. If that’s the case, better sleep at a friend’s pad. It’s safer. Just tell your parents you had an urgent project. Just wake up earlier to catch the first trip. (For Ormoc it’s 4:00 am, for Baybay it’s around 5:00 am)

Admit it or not, habal-habals are becoming more accessible more and more anytime. When you’re on a rush to somewhere, you can ride one. When you don’t want to walk to Patag or Utod, you can ride one. Apparently, more and more people, especially VSU students are becoming dependent with them in terms of transportation. But wait, don’t you know that their operation in the locality is illegal? Yes, they’re illegal.

You reader, do you know it’s illegal? The university knows it’s illegal. The city hall knows it’s illegal. LTO knows it’s illegal. Moreover, habal-habal drivers themselves know that their so-so ‘occupation’ is a breach on the law. If that’s the case, then why are they on the roads?

Eladio Lim Jr., Traffic Regulations Office Evaluator of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), Baybay said, “Habal-habals are illegal. They are not authorized to convey passengers. Two-wheeled public transportation vehicles are prohibited.” The LTO office do operations to suppress this activity. “If we catch them, we impound the vehicle, penalize one thousand pesos and give a week license suspension for the driver’s first offense; one month for the 2nd offense; three months for the 3rd offense and removal of the license at the 4th.” Hmm… I wonder when the fourth offense will be. I guess you have to do your operations more often, if your office would really like to suppress them. Remember: time is gold. A split second may cause injury or worse death if ever accidents involving habal-habals happen.

Meanwhile, Engr. Patrick Postrero (City Planning and Development Coordinator) also said, “The city hall knows it’s against the law. But the local government accommodates them (same thing as they accommodated pot-pots) for the citizens who need their service, especially during night time when buses and cabs are off. We give them the permit to operate. We just ask them to submit the requirements.” But what would the hall do in case of accidents? I guess the city hall should also be responsible somehow. I think the hall should also provide some sort of insurance for the passengers just in case.

Here, near our school, we have two organizations of habal-habals. We have the Pangasugan Motor Riders Association (PMRA) and the Patag, Gabas, Guadalupe Drivers Association (PAGGODA). They can operate along the highway, transporting passengers because it’s beyond university jurisdiction. But unfortunately for them, not within the school grounds.

VSU Chief Security Officer Celso Gumaod said, “We can’t stop them from doing such activity. It’s beyond our control. It’s the LTO’s responsibility. All we could do is to prevent their operation within the school and dissuade students from riding for their safety.” We should know that any habal-habal accident involving university students is not covered by the school insurance. “It seems to us (security officers) our warnings to students are useless. It’s because some university faculty and staff themselves are patrons to these vehicles”, Gumaod said. “And worse, they even have these vehicles drop them off to their offices. We couldn’t do anything to this because they are ‘higher’ employees of the university.”

For safety’s sake dear university employees, you yourselves must be good role models to us youth. Imagine one of your children riding a one of them, and then suddenly an accident occurred. Who’s to blame? Yes, it’s the operator’s liability, that if he caused it. But you should also apportion the blame to yourself. Your child is just following your example.

To both students and staff who are ‘suki’ of these vehicles, think of your safety first. If you ride them to spare you from the long walk, just think of walking to school as a form of exercise, or riding a cab as a safer means. And if you ride them for the sake of not getting late in classes or offices, waking up earlier is a better solution.

“We embed in the minds of our drivers to really drive safely,” presidents Wilfredo Montesclaros Cano of PMRA and Bonifacio Roca of PAGGODA said. But this statement does not still assure our safety. We do not know what may happen within a few minutes of riding on them. They are somehow useful, yes. But all I’m after is just the passengers’ safety. I understand that because of the lack of proper employment they resorted to this occupation. It’s a good thing because they chose not to route to any other means of earning a living (if you know what I mean).

The local government, now that we have a bigger budget allocated for us, should now formulate projects to properly employ these people properly. In this way they will have stable jobs and somehow coordinate with the LTO. This would also ensure citizen’s safety.

To all people concerned, think about it. It’s your life on the line. And to habal-habal drivers, we will be keeping your words. Stick to your rule- ‘Drive Safely.’

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