Editor's Pick News The Chit Estella Road Safety Page

QC court rules 2 bus drivers GUILTY for Chit Estella road crash after 13-year legal battle

The family and colleagues of late veteran journalist Lourdes Simbulan, popularly known as Chit Estella, have finally found justice after a Quezon City court convicted two bus drivers responsible for the violent road crash along Commonwealth Avenue that killed her 13 years ago. 

In a decision dated April 22, Judge Ralph Lee of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 83 sentenced Daniel Espinosa and Victor Ancheta to two years in prison. 

With both accused impoverished, the court ordered the drivers’ bus companies Universal Guiding Star Bus Line Corp. and Nova Auto Transport Bus Corp. to pay Simbulan’s family over P7.64 million in moral and exemplary damages. 

“Finally, a long-overdue decision that brings the two drivers and their bus companies to justice… Chit can finally rest in peace,” said Estella’s husband, retired University of the Philippines (UP) professor Roland Simbulan. 

On May 13, 2011, Estella was on her way to a reunion with high school classmates at the UP Ayala Technohub when the Nova bus driven by Ancheta first hit the taxi she was riding. A Universal Guiding Star Bus manned by Espinosa then rammed the vehicle’s rear portion, the impact of which proved fatal to the late journalist. 

The court decision noted that both drivers had a “last clear chance” to avoid the collision with Estella’s vehicle had they exercised “extraordinary care through driving at a reasonable rate of speed.”

Estella’s case dragged on for more than a decade due to changes in the defense counsel, a Supreme Court investigation on the assigned judge and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Before founding VERA Files in 2008, Estella was a long-time senior reporter for Ang Pahayagang Malaya. She also worked briefly at the Philippine Daily Inquirer then joined The Manila Times as managing editor. Later on, she became editor-in-chief of Pinoy Times, a tabloid that extensively covered the excesses of former President Joseph Estrada. 

Estella, then 54, was also a journalism professor at the UP College of Mass Communication at the time of her untimely demise. 

In 2016, VERA Files launched The Chit Estella Road Safety Page, a collection of in-depth reports on Philippine road safety issues. VERA Files also partnered with the UP Journalism Department for the Chit Estella Student Journalism Awards in the annual Philippine Journalism Research Conference. 

A series of road safety laws have been enacted in the country after Estella’s death, in particular the enforcement of a 60 kph speed limit along Commonwealth Avenue. Republic Act 10916 or the “Road Speed Limiter Act of 2016,” which requires the installation of a speed limiter on public utility vehicles (PUV), was also enacted. 

With the release of the long-overdue verdict, Simbulan expressed hope for a reform in the policies of PUV companies. 

“The convicted drivers were working within a system that the bus companies set up that often rewards them for recklessness because the main point was profit,” he said. 

“We hope that road users’ rules will be effectively enforced by the authorities and that good governance will keep reckless drivers off our roads to prevent from victimizing the public,” Simbulan added.  

Click here to read the decision

Click here to read Philippine Daily Inquirer’s  editorial