By: Emme Rose Santiagudo
EVER since the Iloilo Strait tragedy on Aug 3, 2019, motor banca trips on the Iloilo-Guimaras line were never the same.
A week after the incident that claimed the lives of 31 pump boat passengers, all wooden-hulled boats plying the Iloilo-Guimaras (vice versa) route were made to follow a set of protocols issued by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).
The protocols are: all tarpaulins/canvass of motor boats shall either be rolled-up or removed; passengers should wear life jackets at all times throughout the voyage; motor bancas shall carry passengers up to 75 percent of their authorized capacity only; operation of motor bancas shall be during fair weather only and from sunrise to sunset (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
Worse, boat trips are cancelled at the slightest sign of bad weather.
Since then, motor banca rides to and from the island province have been unpleasant and inconvenient, especially for the elderly and the children.
For this reason, some stakeholders in the province of Guimaras are pushing for the 24/7 (24 hours, 7 days a week) operations of motor bancas, provided these are equipped with life saving provisions for commuters and crewmembers.
The suggestion was tackled during an inter-agency dialogue of public and private stakeholders sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DOT)-6 at Hotel del Rio on Thursday.
According to Atty. Tomas Jungco Jr., Integrated of the Bar Philippines (IBP) Guimaras Chapter vice president, commuters, especially Guimarasnons working in Iloilo, suffer from limited boat trips.
“Subong ga-antos ang tawo because you have to be there by 6 a.m. Ang problema, iban nga work ends at 10 p.m.,” Jungco lamented.
IBP-Guimaras Chapter has filed a civil case with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 39 in Iloilo City in a bid to stop MARINA protocols imposed on Guimaras motor boats.
The suit is an urgent motion for reconsideration, declaratory relief, mandatory and prohibitory injunction with prayer for the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
Junco emphasized that 24/7 navigation is possible and the answer to the problems besetting the tourism industry of Guimaras.
“Possible gid na ang 24/7 navigation kay kalapit man lang pila man lang 15 minutes man lang, so wala na kinahanglan sobra nga condition kay amo na ga-hamper sang tourism kay wala sang may ma-travel at night time. Ulan-ulan lang da gamay, wala sang may mabyahe mauntat sila,” he lamented.
While the conditions set by MARINA are intended to protect the public, it made the situation even worse, according to Jungco.
“The regulation must be for the protection of the people, and they are claiming that they are protecting the people. How can they protect us if the people are suffering from the regulations? What we need now is immediate action. It has been more than two months that we are suffering from the inconvenience that we encountered,” he stressed.
Marjorie Mella, owner of Jem Home Farm in Sibunag, Guimaras, shared Jungco’s sentiments. But instead of the 24/7 boat operations, she appealed to extend boat trips to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
“If they can’t give us 24/7, maybe extend our travel at night time because it’s very difficult for us. It hasn’t been an easy ride for us,” she said.
But for MARINA-Western Visayas, the 24/7 operations and night time navigation cannot be considered due to the existing policies.
“As regards sa 24/7, we have an existing policy at may level, indi ko kaya masolusyunan because that is a policy being approved by the national,” MARINA-6 regional director Jose Venancio Vero Jr. said.
Vero emphasized that wooden-hulled motor boats are for daytime navigation only.
Considering the weather changes, he added that the Iloilo Strait and the channel from Iloilo to Guimaras are “treacherous.”
“I am not sure if I can recommend (24/7 operations) aside sa meron tayong policy na wooden-hulled boat is for daytime navigation only. Bawal sila sa night time, this channel is treacherous, anytime nagbabago,” he said.
For now, Vero said passengers and motor boats should comply with the protocols, which are also imposed in other parts of the country.
“Every time may reklamo, MARINA has done its best to provide them (with what they need). Sa ngayon, as is muna sa schedule (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Si Administrator (Vice-Admiral Narciso A. Vingson Jr.) lang ang pwede bumali, hindi lang yan dito sa Guimaras but the whole country,” he said.
Limited trips were among the problems presented during the DOT-hosted inter-agency dialogue.
Other concerns of the tourism stakeholders are the lack of system in terminal ports, unregulated rates of motor bancas and vans, and dirty wharves, among others.
After the dialogue, the local government units (LGUs), tourism department, tour and boat operators and other stakeholders committed to provide immediate actions to the problems, such as putting up necessary amenities in the wharves and conducting seminars for stakeholders of Guimaras.