MANILA - Giovanni Eco, father of 8, is no longer letting his kids left out of his sight. No one is allowed to get on the road without him or his wife, confining them in a shanty in Pasig City’s crowded Tramo area.
He is coming from the death of his 7-year-old son Miguel, who was hit by an SUV on a street corner in Rayos Compound, more than four kilometers from their home on December 20, 2018.
The boy was then sitting alone after he had gone Christmas caroling. The driver fled and remains at large.
“Nagsisisi ako (I regret it),” Eco said, his voice soft, almost fragile.
The 44-year-old father had learned the hard way, and the incident cuts through his heart until now.
It was a crippling pain, he said. He finds it hard to get back to work as a cigarette vendor.
He recounted: “Hindi ko akalain na ganon ang mangyayari sa anak ko. Ang problema, nalingat po ako.”
(I did not expect that to happen to my child. The problem is I lost my attention.)
Other children like Miguel continue to stroll Metro Manila’s busy and congested streets, where at least 50 road crashes happen daily, based on the 2018 report of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) Road Safety Unit.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least two children die from road crashes every day in the Philippines. And globally, road traffic injuries are the leading causes of death among children and young adults age 5 to 29 years.
The WHO sees the need for a shift in the current child health agenda, which has largely neglected road safety.
“No child should die or be seriously injured while they walk, cycle or play. We must return our streets to our children. They have a right to feel safe on them,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the report.
Just recently, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the child restraint law that mandates the use of car seats for children and restricts kids from sitting in the front seat of motor vehicles.
The WHO said this legislation “is a significant step towards prioritizing the safety and welfare of infants and children on Philippine roads, and preventing traffic-related deaths and injuries.”
Child restraints, according to the United Nations health agency, could reduce the probability of fatal crashes by about 70 percent among infants and between 54 to 80 percent among young children.
Lawyer and road safety advocate Carl Carumba, who helped in the crafting of the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act (Republic Act 11229), said the Philippines now has an almost complete set of laws to mitigate high-risk behaviors on the road.
These include national laws on a speed limit, drunk driving, motorcycle helmet, seat-belt, mobile phone use, and driving under the influence of illegal drugs.
But above all these, the implementation of safety standards for roads and vehicles and a powerful public awareness campaign lie in the hands of the government, Carumba said.
“Marami pang magagawa pero hindi na kailangan ng legislation. I think common sense na lang ng LGU ang kailangan,” Carumba said. “Kung sa policy side, kumpleto na. Pero sa enforcement, that’s a different thing.”
(There is much more to do but there is no need for legislation. On the policy side, it is now complete. But in terms of enforcement, that’s a different thing.)
The MMDA acknowledges the vulnerability of children on the road and the urgent need to enforce the new law.
They will be ready once the implementing rules and regulations are out, said Celine Pialago, MMDA spokesperson.
“’Yung mga bata po kasi, sa usapin ng mga pedestrian na bata, sila ho ’yung pinakamabilis na hindi makita. Sila ho ’yung mas prone sa aksidente,” Pialago said.
(The children, in terms pedestrians, they are the ones easy to miss on the road. They are more prone to accidents.)
As for children inside vehicles, she said: “Maliliit sila, sila ’yung madalas na makukulit, malilikot. So in terms of car crashes, sila ’yung mas nanganganib ang buhay kaysa sa adults.”
(They are small, they are often the ones who are playful, restless. So in terms of car crashes, they are more vulnerable than adults.)
In his analysis, Carumba said there is a 90-percent casualty rate among adults from road crashes involving vehicles traveling from around 60 kilometers per hour. More so for kids below 13 years old who have not fully developed their bones yet.
In Malate, Manila, there is a 4,600-square-meter Children’s Road Safety Park that showcases miniature versions of traffic signs and structures. Among them is a small steel footbridge that was misleadingly dubbed as the “Weirdest Project in the World” in 2014.
This was built to raise awareness on road safety and teach traffic rules and regulations to youngsters.
“Ang mga bata, sila ang prone sa traffic accident kaya dapat talaga,sila ay maturuan,” Medellina Trapsi, traffic discipline officer of MMDA, said.
(Children are prone to traffic accidents so they should be taught.)
She added: “Kailangan sa murang edad matutunan nila kung ano ’yung tamang pagsunod sa batas trapiko, ’yung mga potential dangers on the road para maging traffic law abiding citizens sila.”
(At their early age, they need to learn how to follow the traffic rules, the potential dangers on the road to become traffic law abiding citizens.)
Speaking from his excruciating experience, Eco argued that it is more important for parents to guide and keep an eye on their children when on the road.
“Sa mga magulang, kung maari lang po, huwag alisin ang mga bata sa mata nila, na malingat sila,” he concluded.
(To parents, as much as possible, do not leave your kids out of your sight or lose attention.)