The suggestion of Department of Tourism 6 (DOT-6) Director Helen J. Catalbas to temporarily close Islas de Gigantes from tourists was meet with opposition both from the local stakeholders and the political leaders of Iloilo’s Fifth District.
While it is anchored on a voluntary nature of temporary closure in order to give a breather to the different destinations around the island, the point of Catalbas could be best interpreted as a wake up call to the local leaders of Iloilo province, the Fifth District, Carles town and especially the barangay level leaders.
The three-month voluntary closure would give everyone some time, at least a few opportunities to sit down, examine some realities around the next frontier of tourism and probably put up realistic solutions to the lingering problems around these island destinations that were sit aside to accomodate the influx of visitors and of course, profit.
Reality tells us that the town of Carles is too lacking yet in facing the challenges brought by the sudden tourist influx despite the drive and struggle of the local leaders to keep up with it.
While a big problem that they must resolve is the absence of one entry and exit point where a lot of tourists prefer the town of Estancia as their jump-off point as it is nearer Gigantes thus depriving Carles the opportunity to welcome, manage and earn from the actual tourist arrivals, it cannot also provide a viable solution by way of luring shipping companies to provide a consistent travel schedule to Gigantes other than the lone fast craft operating as of the moment. It doesn’t even have a decent passenger terminal where guests can wait for their schedules.
I am also thinking if the local leaders have entertained the idea of organizing a cooperative or a people’s organization (PO) that could start operating bigger boats and systematic dispatch of schedules to the islands and back to the mainland in order to give the town as the sole entry point some major push. This will give the locals the chance to improve their earnings and at the same time provide a good regulation opportunity for the local government in managing the arrivals of guests.
One major problem that Carles faces today is their inability to monitor the entry of tourists via the neighboring towns of Estancia, Sara, Balasan, and Concepcion. The mentioned towns especially Estancia which has boat schedules to Gigantes are part of the problem of Carles. Even Sicogon Island which is now under the management of Ayala was allowed to make Estancia as their entry point. These contributed to the dilemma Carles faces and can only be corrected if the provincial government will step-in and encourage provincial level legislation to effect of imposing bigger fines to those caught entering the waters of Carles other than the designated port of entry.
Carles can meantime initiate talks with Estancia so thag they be allowed to put up courtesy booth where passengers or guests bound to Sicogon and Carles can drop-by, log and pay necessary fees before proceeding.
Carles is said to have started charging environmental fees. Of course, nothing is wrong with it if and only if a legislation is in place stating its intent and the manner of using the proceeds.
On the island barangay level, proper documentation of guests going to destinations must be put in place. A tariff must be initiated, approved and implemented in consultation with the local tourism office which should reflect boat fees, guide fees, destination entrances and all other fees.
If in the end Carles will not heed to the suggestion of self closure by the tourism regional office, the local government must take a pro-active role in exercising its regulatory power in managing its very vast tourism potential which more often than not has become a lip service only. Even the local officials have started complaining about the cooperation of the people around the island destinations.
If the local government will not exercise real political will and instead be cowed by the possibilities of political repercussions should they insist on regulating and managing the industry and if the people will only think of profits, then Carles may soon become a Boracay copycat in terms of abuses and failure to protect its natural environment.
The office of the governor also must look at the situation in Carles and in all other destinations around the province by way of implementing sound and sustainable projects for the people that will be consistent with the tourism potentials of every place. While not everyone can have the opportunity to put a resort, at least everyone can have the chance to serve the needs of every client going in and out the destinations.
We can only hope then that Carles will not make its own people squatters of their own birthland.