December 20, 2015

Lessons learned

Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City is not called the “killer highway” for nothing.  It is notorious for vehicular accidents involving all manner of wheeled conveyances: speeding buses and jeepneys whose breaks invariably “fail”; tricycles that aren’t even supposed to be plying this major thoroughfare; sleek late-model sedans and SUVs whose drivers can’t resist going at top speed given the avenue’s 10-lane width; and, oh yes, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic to their and other motorists’ peril.
Commonwealth Avenue finally got to us last weekend scaring the living daylights from me.

There we were cruising at 40 kph in the middle lane when a Tamaraw Fx van (reconfigured to have an open bed like a pick-up) suddenly came at us from the inner lane. I saw bodies fly into the air and fall into our path.  The driver slammed the breaks and mercifully kept our pick-up from running over the people underneath. But the tailgate of the Tamaraw Fx opened and hit our pick-up before falling on its side.  The next thing I heard were the wailing of women passengers of the Fx as they piled out of their vehicle and saw their bloodied companions sprawled on the road.

It was only when the rescue teams had extricated the two men from underneath our pick-up and brought them to the emergency room of the nearby hospital was I able to step out into the street. (I couldn’t bear looking at what I anticipated to be a horrible scene that would be seared into my consciousness.) I then saw a black sedan in the inner lane of the avenue with its front part crushed. It apparently hit the back of the Fx sending it careening towards our direction.

There were plenty of police as well as members of rescue teams, some official and others from volunteer groups, milling around.  Some of the police set up barriers and were redirecting traffic. No one approached either my husband or me to ask if we were hurt or if we saw what happened.  I saw a policeman directing our driver to take their photos beside the Fx Tamaraw still lying on its side. (According to our driver, they said they needed to document that they were on the scene doing their jobs!)

Meanwhile my husband heard a policeman say that the Korean driver reeked of alcohol.  He told me that the investigators on the scene had no breath analyzer.  I proceeded to the ER to ask whether the hospital could check for blood alcohol levels but was told they did not have the capability.  The ER nurse and resident-on-duty however noted that the Korean had “positive alcoholic breath” or “+AB” and assured me this observation would be written on his chart.

Subsequently I asked a friend in media for help in having a breath analyzer brought to the hospital.    My friend informed me that they had requested the LTO to send one to the hospital but it would take time as the one in charge was still asleep!  An MMDA traffic investigator who later arrived at the hospital said the instrument would be brought in from Makati.  We were instructed to go to the police station so that our statements about the accident could be taken but only our driver was asked to fill up a form stating what he knew of the accident.  We were not advised that we, as owners of the involved vehicle, needed to file a criminal complaint, i.e. reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property.
I did what I could to help the injured get proper treatment especially the one who lay comatose fighting for his life.  After consulting a neurosurgeon friend, I urged the employer of the critically injured to have them transferred to a better equipped medical facility. We also advised the employer to have his people guard the Korean driver (who had been admitted to the hospital) to make sure he would not flee.
We counted our blessings that we were unhurt although our pick-up had sustained major damage.  We went home to get much needed rest assuming the wheels of justice were turning; in particular, that the authorities investigating the accident were doing their part.

What followed next shows that victims of vehicular accidents have much more to contend with apart from the injuries and damages they sustain.  Many times they are left to their own devices and are at a loss as to what to do.  We only learned later in the day from a lawyer friend that to ensure the Korean driver would be made to account for causing the accident and be prevented from escaping, all the victims needed to immediately file criminal complaints.  These would be subjected to an inquest proceeding wherein the fiscal would determine whether there was probable cause to immediately charge the offending party and place him under police custody.
There was an interminable wait at the police station while they finalized their report and completed the needed documents provided by the victims. (The police seemed to be acting in slow motion such that a victim quipped perhaps they needed some “lubricant” to speed things up.) Despite our repeated inquiries, the police kept telling us that we did not need to file a separate criminal complaint for the damage to our pick-up.

We proceeded to the inquest fiscal’s office at the Quezon City Hall of Justice where we endured another long wait for the fiscal-on-duty to arrive and for our turn to be heard.  As hours passed (it was nearing midnight), I got more and more exasperated at the seemingly endless wait with no one advising us as to what to expect. Rather than be cheered by the Christmas lights on the city hall grounds and carols blaring from the PA system, our anxiety and feeling of oppression grew by the minute.

When our turn came before the inquest fiscal, we were surprised to learn that we were not a party to the complaint because we didn’t file a separate case.  Only the charge of reckless imprudence resulting to serious physical injuries would be heard.  Our own complaint would go through the usual process of preliminary investigation once we filed it meaning another long wait for the wheels of justice to turn, if these would turn at all.

At risk of being cited for impertinence by the fiscal since we had no legal standing in the case, I ventured to say that there were initial reports that the Korean driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. The fiscal flipped through the documents submitted by the police and flatly said the medico-legal certificate the police attached to their report did not mention any such finding.  Another surprise!

Thus in the wee hours of the morning we hied to the hospital where the injured had been taken for emergency treatment including the Korean driver.  We verified that the ER resident-on-duty who examined the Korean had written her finding of “+ AB” but since this finding was considered “subjective”, the medico-legal officer of the hospital had not included it in his certification.  What would be considered “objective” findings? The results from a breath analyzer or blood alcohol levels, none which was availed of by the accident investigators.  It turns out that such a crucial piece of information had been missed out, inadvertently or deliberately, we will never know.

What does this experience teach us? If you ever find yourself involved in a traffic accident that puts life and limb at risk or that results in major property damage, keep these in mind: 1) pay close attention to what the traffic police or MMDA investigators are doing and get their names and official designations; 2) consult a lawyer first chance you get and if possible, have her accompany you to help protect your interests; 3) as much as possible, work out an amicable out-of-court settlement, without surrendering your rights as an aggrieved party.
Be ready to contend with  uncaring, incompetent and/or corrupt investigators; a prosecutorial system bogged down by a huge backlog of cases and fiscals who drag their feet or are quick to file depending on “considerations”; and a judicial system that will grind exceedingly slow until injustice runs its inevitable course.

No wonder many Filipinos are seduced by the prospect of extra-judicial shortcuts as the solution to rampant criminality and anarchy in the streets.  But then again, that is tantamount to giving the same state agents responsible for the broken-down system to further flout the law and pave the way for all hell to finally break loose.#

Published in Business World
21 December 2015