By: Rick Alberto
5:47 pm | Sunday, April 8th, 2012
PANDAN, Philippines—The poor will always be with us, Jesus said some 2,000 years ago. And so will the dupers, it seems…for as long as there are suckers?
During the Holy Week rush to the provinces, some greedy bus companies took advantage of the traveling public. On Palm Sunday, I bought in advance a bus ticket from one of the reputable bus companies plying the Bicol route for a trip on Holy Monday. I thought the fare, P900, was an overprice, since the usual fare to the port city of Tabaco in Albay ranged from P750 to P800 in an air-conditioned bus. Another bus company actually was selling tickets for P750 but it had run out of seats for Monday.
I was sold by the Isarog Lines an “executive-class” ticket for Monday, 8 p.m. I arrived at the bus station, if you could call it that, around 7:30. The wait, it seemed was lasting for eternity, until the bus finally came around 10:30! I endured the three-hour wait standing for lack of seats due to the large number of waiting passengers bound for different destinations in the Bicol Region.
The bus that came and that we were made to board was that of the Penafrancia Tours &Travel, another supposedly reputable bus firm in Bicol. It turned out that some other passengers held tickets sold by another bus firm, RSL. The three bus firms apparently were owned by the same owner or had an alliance as they had a common booking office in Alabang.
The bus definitely was not the executive type, for it had seen better days. It was a condemned bus reconditioned for a day to answer the peak demand. The ceiling lamps were still dusty, the curtains draped only the windows in the first-half portion of the bus, and the upholstery was run-down. The air con was barely running. True enough, after a few hours, it conked out. We were in a hot oven; the windows could not be opened as they were sealed. Worse, the engine at the back (I was on a seat row second from the last) overheated several times, and the bus had to stop every time.
In an eatery stopover in Tiaong, Quezon, we waited for about an hour for the bus to resume its journey. The passengers were at a loss as to the reason for the extended stopover until a curious passenger learned we were waiting for three passengers who were to be transferred to our bus from another one!
The bus stalled and stopped a few times more after that because of mechanical malfunctions, including a busted rear tire. It had to look for a vulcanizing shop as it had no spare tire! Twice the bus conductor said we would only make it to Naga City, which is a good three and a half hours away from Tabaco. By past 10 a.m., we were in a mountainous part of Ragay town in Camarines Sur. And we were supposed to be in Tabaco between 7:30 and 8 a.m. of Tuesday. The passengers agreed to let the bus have its final stop in Naga where they would find another ride to Tabaco.
However, a minute after the bus resumed its way to Naga, the bus had had it, or so it seemed. Exasperated passengers who were catching up the morning ferry boat rides to Catanduanes in Tabaco were resigned to taking the last ferry trip at 1 p.m. Some passengers were cursing and the bus conductor and driver said they were not to blame but the management, which just ordered them to drive the bus from the junkyard. Passengers were left to fend for themselves, and upon their insistence, the driver signed their bus tickets as proof that they did not make it to their destinations.
While waiting for our rides to Naga, we managed to check the license plate of the bus, whose body number was 7188. We discovered that the number in front, EVE 285, was different from the plate number at the rear, which was TYT126! And the plates had expired in 2010! The passengers thought the bus was colorum, or unregistered for 2012.
We waited for passing passenger jeepneys bound for Naga, which was P65 away. I was in the city around 11:15, rode a tricycle to go to the office of the Penafrancia bus line and got a refund of what the bus firm overcharged me: P150. Another passenger who bothered to complain got the same amount. Already there ahead of me were three ladies, who were raising a howl and demanding that they be refunded of their bus fares plus the jeepney ride from Ragay to Naga or else they would seek the bus firm’s disenfranchisement. There were exchanges of words, and eventually they were offered free rides back to Manila on their return trip after the Holy Week.
It turned out that the three ladies were the passengers we waited for for an hour in Tiaong. One of the ladies, Elzer Ilagan, said their calvary of a trip started in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, when the passengers of the bus they were in were made to transfer to another bus purportedly because of a faulty brake. But Ms. Ilagan suspected that it was a false claim and that the bus would pick up more passengers in the Cubao, Quezon City, bus terminal. But the bus itself was “not as nice as the picture of the bus shown to us when we bought tickets.”
The three lady passengers were left out when the transfer bus ran out of seats, so they were made to ride in a Jam bus and given P330 each as fare up to Tiaong, where they transferred to our bus which, according to one of the ladies, Maricon de la Rosa, was made out to be, again, a “nice” bus.
On hindsight, could the bus’ “stalling” in Ragay and not proceeding to Naga or even Tabaco be just a ploy by the driver and the conductor since there were more chances for concerned authorities to discover the bus’ expired plates?
From Naga I got on a bus to Legazpi City and from there hopped on to a bus for Tabaco. From Ragay. I spent a total of P238.50 for fares, P88.50 more than the P150 I got as refund. And what about the other passengers who bothered not to complain and who even hired vans just so they could make it to the last ferry boat trip to Virac, Catanduanes, at 1 p.m? It was gross injustice, bad business management and the height of insensitivity on the part the three bus firms (Penafrancia, Isarog and RSL) indeed!
I arrived in Tabaco already 3:17 p.m., and hungry, I got a late brunch at around 4 after settling down at a local hotel to be able to rest for my next travel to Catanduanes the next day.
The whole bus experience was the antithesis of fun that a travel is supposed to be. Based on the experience, the bus company doesn’t deserve to attach the words “Tours & Travel” to its name, much less the name Penafrancia, which apparently refers to the title of Bicolandia’s Patroness.
The least the bus managements can do is to apologize to their passengers, but I’m sure they won’t on their own volition.
Now, it’s the government’s turn to seek redress for the wronged traveling public last Holy Week.
Related article: LTFRB probes bus firm over Bicol trip ‘turned sour’