Philippine bus falls into ravine, leaves 19 dead and 21 injured

Above, the wreckage of a passenger bus after it careened off a road and fell into a ravine in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental south of Manila. (PDRRMO, Mindoro Occidental via AP)
Updated 21 March 2018

Philippine bus falls into ravine, leaves 19 dead and 21 injured

MANILA: A passenger bus careened off a winding, dirt road and fell into a ravine south of the Philippine capital, killing 19 people and injuring 21 others, police said Wednesday.
The crash occurred Tuesday night in Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro province as the bus was heading on a downhill stretch of a road that had been under repair. The bus struck a bridge railing before falling into the 15- to 20-foot-deep ravine.
A mechanical problem may have caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle, police investigator Alexis Go told The Associated Press.
Police officer Ian Villanosa said the bus driver was killed and that children were among the injured.
Highway fatalities are alarmingly high in the Philippines due to poor traffic law enforcement, the dilapidated conditions of vehicles, and a lack of safety features like signs and railings, especially in far-flung provinces.
A senator who advocates for traffic safety shared her sympathies to the families of the victims while also expressing rage that such accidents are preventable.
Sen. Grace Poe called for support of a Senate bill that would create a National Transportation Safety Board and other steps such as inspections of public transportation vehicles and strict drivers’ licensing.
She said the crash was a reminder of how dangerous public transportation is in the Philippines. “Sadly, the list of tragic road accidents and their casualties continue to increase because vehicles that are not roadworthy or even those we label as rolling coffins are still allowed to ply the roads with near impunity,” her statement said.

US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

Updated 20 January 2019

US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

  • US and Pakistan should have “strategic engagement”, not transactional relationship
  • The American senator sees a “unique opportunity” to change diplomatic direction of US-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD:  US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult US relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

"I've seen things change here and all in a positive direction," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump "far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today".

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by "strategic engagement", including a free trade agreement, he said.

US relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies. However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.

Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.

Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the US side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington's previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.

With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the US commitment to Afghanistan.

Asked whether there had been confusion over the US message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said "without a doubt" but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable," he told Reuters. "Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."