Last week I was heading back home after a function; a typical night after a day on the job. That was when something caught my eye: a scene at the foot of the southbound Katipunan Avenue overpass across Ateneo in Quezon City.

The police were there, ambulances were on the scene and a crowd of onlookers was gathering; it was an accident. A big one.

The concrete barrier and guardrail that separated the overpass from the underpass going towards Aurora/Marcos Highway had claimed a BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo after it had jumped the curb and collided head on with it. I took a photo of the scene (above) and after a quick look through the car and upon seeing no driver harmed, I went on my way.

The very next day it turned out that the accident had claimed the life of the driver, and that man was Jose Roa Alvarez, better known to friends and family as Jim.

The name is familiar: Jim Alvarez was the eldest son of newly elected Palawan Governor Jose Ch. Alvarez. In motoring circles, the Alvarez name is one of the most prominent as Gov. Alvarez is also the owner of the Columbian Group of Companies, the same group that distributes three automotive brands: Kia under the Columbian Autocar Corporation (CAC), Peugeot under Eurobrands Distributor, Inc. (EDI), as well as BMW under the Asian Carmakers Corporation (ACC).

There are many theories circling the industry about how this tragedy came about. Some alleged that he had a bit much to drink. Some had theorized that he had fallen asleep, given that it took place around midnight. Regardless of the circumstances, however, one thing is certain: an unsafe road fixture had claimed a life.

Sadly, this is not news to many of us who ply the streets everyday. On any given day any alert motorist can spot so many things on our streets that are tragedies on the road just waiting for a victim.

There are those utility poles along C.P. Garcia Avenue (beside the University of the Philippines) that haven't been moved after the road had been widened and thus continue to stand on the new lane. There is that curb that separates the flyover on C-5 (ironically, also called C.P. Garcia) over Bagong Ilog, Pasig that is now almost at the same level as the asphalt; make a mistake there and you'll be facing opposing traffic head on. And then there's this concrete barrier and guard rail that separates the Katipunan flyover; there were no reflectors nor was it illuminated, and neither were there any water-filled plastic barriers or barrels to absorb the force any impact. I'm sure the list goes on and on, and that's the sad fact.

It's not the first time that someone collided with concrete at that spot as over the years, the concrete barrier, curb and railing have seen quite a bit of tear more than wear, indicating that vehicles have hit it before; we just didn't hear or read much about it. And even when any similar incident gains publicity, nothing is done. Think back to the time when the Fortuner or the bus hopped over the Skyway's barriers and guardrails, causing numerous deaths. To this day, the height of the Skyway guardrail still hasn't been raised.

New barriers

The Monday immediately after the accident I passed by the same spot again and, well, it's like the difference between night and day. There were at least 30 of those orange water-filled barriers there, along with high visibility reflectors and even an electrified signal light (see photo above). Like a lighthouse warning seafarers, the changes made are profound... perhaps even a bit over the top.

Did it really take the death of a prominent and well-connected figure for the Metro Manila Development Authority, the LGU's (Quezon City) traffic or road safety agency or perhaps even the Land Transportation Office to finally act so decisively, turning a true road hazard into something even the blind can see or, quite possibly, even survivable? More importantly, why is it always after the fact?

Officials have this tendency to put money into extremely trivial things like a new fancy lamp post design or finding a way to cleverly craft the sitting mayor's initials onto public property. The last time I checked there was no 'B' in 'Makati City', no 'E' in 'Pasig City', no 'BF' in 'Marikina City' or 'HB' in 'Quezon City', excellent uses for public funds.

The very spot that claimed the life of the Columbian Group of Companies and Palawan scion is now a 'beacon' for road safety but at what cost?

Someone somewhere can put a price on making roads safer and more survivable in the event of an accident for sure. Regardless of monthly salaries or net worth, this is certain: no one can put a Peso value to what a person's life means to his or her friends, family or children.

We at extend our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Jose "Jim" Alvarez.