THE Commission on Higher Education on Tuesday suspended all field trips and educational tours in private and state universities and colleges after 14 students from the Bestlink College of the Philippines perished in a bus accident in Tanay, Rizal Monday.
The commission en banc agreed to ban such activities until a thorough investigation of the incident was completed.
Commissioner Prospero de Vera III also recommended a review of guidelines and policies on field trips and educational tours.
Under a 2012 CHED memo, universities and colleges are required to report to their respective CHED regional office the nature of the tour or field trip, including its purpose, schedule, destination and cost at least a month before the opening of classes every academic year.
The memo states that the destination of such field trips should be near the school to minimize cost.
De Vera said CHED must determine if public and private colleges and universities have been complying with safety requirements.
“The Tanay tragedy is a reminder that we must be very strict in the regulation of the use of public transportation for school-sponsored trips,” he said.
“While it is true that field trips are essential to give students the opportunity to see and explore new things, enhance their learning experience in a natural setting, and provide for interest-driven and hands-on training, the safety of the students on field trips must be ensured at all times by school authorities.”
At least 14 students of Bestlink College of the Philippines in Novaliches, Quezon City were killed along with the driver, after their bus crashed into a concrete electric post in Sitio Bayukan, Barangay Sampaloc, in Tanay, Rizal, on the way to a school-sanctioned camping activity.
Charlie Cariño, vice president for academics at Bestlink, denied early Tuesday morning that the school has done nothing for the victims of the deadly bus crash, noting that it paid for the medical and funeral expenses of the victims.
The crash was an accident, he said, and denied that the school forced parents to sign a waiver. The school only asked for the parents’ consent, he said.
Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services, said her panel would investigate the incident, and would look into the granting of permits to drivers of commercial buses. She said she also wants to know the safety features of the buses, which can continue to operate into their 15th year, as well as the experience required of drivers.
“Having a license is not enough if a driver has been driving for only three months,” Poe said.
Senator Cynthia Villar said buses or other vehicles to be used in field trips must be properly checked before they are used for that purpose.
The chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, Persida Rueda-Acosta, said a waiver, if it was signed, will not exculpate the school of liability in case of accidents during the trip.
“There could be civil liability on the part of the school. The waiver, if there’s really any, was unilateral on the part of the school. It was not a license to allow the deaths and injuries,” Acosta said.
But Acosta said the criminal and civil liability of the driver, Julian Lacorda Jr., was extinguished when he died.
A team of PAO lawyers has been sent to assist the families of the victims.
The PAO chief also said that the trip should not have been mandatory because it was not for an academic subject.
Malacañang on Tuesday ordered the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to ensure the safety of all passenger buses following the fatal accident.
“The Palace expressed its condolences to the families of the victims who died in the fatal bus mishap in Tanay, Rizal. The LTFRB has already been directed to ensure the roadworthiness of the buses and to remind public utility drivers to guarantee the safety of all their passengers,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
“The CHED is likewise conducting the necessary investigation to determine if proper procedures were observed by school authorities,” the Palace official added. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Rey E. Requejo and John Paolo Bencito