Village leaders, stakeholders ‘dismayed’ over proposed temporary closure of Gigantes

Cabugao Gamay, Islas de Gigantes, Carles, Iloilo (Photo by Bombette Marin)

Islas de Gigantes village officials and stakeholders were “disappointed and dismayed” over the recommendation to close the popular island destination in Carles town, Iloilo province for three to four months.

“We believe that the recommendation was done haphazardly and could benefit from a more critical and thorough assessment,” said barangay leaders, school officials, resort owners, and members and officers of people’s organizations on the island in a joint statement.

They said they were not consulted prior to the making of the recommendation.

The joint statement was sent to Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. yesterday, July 16, by Alberto Mayordomo, executive director of the Island Sustanaible Development Alliance (ISDA).

“[It] is a product of an inter-sectoral meeting facilated by ISDA,” he said.

Deparment of Tourism (DOT-6) Director Helen Catalbas, during the Northern Iloilo Cruise Tourism Ocular Inspection and Stakeholders Dialogue at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol on July 10, reccomended the temporary “self-closure” of tourism establishments on the island.

According to her, the proposed shutdown is a “preventive measure.”

“This will pave the way for a cleanup  and upgrade of facilities on the island,” she said.

“We are also willing to provide training to frontliners, tricycle drivers, boat operators, hotel and restaurant owners, among others.”

Catalbas does not want Islas de Gigantes to suffer the same fate as Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan.

But the regional head of the tourism department clarified that the temporary closure “is just a suggestion.”

“The implementation will still depend on the decision of the local government unit of Carles,” Catalbas said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and DOT recently conducted an inspection of the island and they found out that “government policies and tourism industry standards” are “not strictly enforced” on island.

“We do not argue the findings of the composite team (composed of PENRO, EMB and MENRO) that conducted the evaluation, and we are not exonerating ourselves from the responsibility of ensuring the cleanliness and integrity of our island resources and ecosystem. However, we decried the lack of transparency and the non-participation of community-based stakeholders in the process,” part of the joint statement read.

“Our inputs could provide a better contextual understanding and analysis of the state of tourism [on the island], in contrast with the misguided and half-baked truths that are currently making rounds in broadcast and social media.”

The joint statement also contains the following recommendations from local tourism stakeholders:

1. For the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a spot audit on the utilization of Environmental Fees collected from tourists going to Gigantes Islands at Bancal Port; The share of the four barangays from these fees has not been downloaded since 2015.

2. For the Provincial Government of Iloilo to reform the unfair tourism system in Bancal that promotes day tour and slowly cripples the tourism chain in Gigantes Islands. It is highly unjust to suggest the voluntary closure of resort establishments in Gigantes when data would show that island resort establishments hosted only a quarter of tourist arrivals in 2017 given the active promotion of day tours that largely benefit mainland establishments.

3. For the Provincial Government of Iloilo to investigate cases of nepotism, and to replace the Municipal Tourism Personnel in Bancal who have been accepting under the table transactions and to put pressure on the LGU to hire a dedicated Tourism Officer who capable, objective and proficient at her/his job.

4. For the Provincial Government of Iloilo and for the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and resolve any conflict of interests involving municipal officials vis-à-vis the tourism industry;

5. For the Provincial Government of Iloilo to review the commitments of agency partners that agreed to a Convergence Strategy in 2014 to help rehabilitate Gigantes Islands post-Typhoon Yolanda and to assist the strengthening of the Island Sustainable Development Alliance for Gigantes Islands;

6. For the Provincial Government of Iloilo to provide technical guidance in developing the Sustainable Eco-Tourism Plan for Gigantes and not a mass tourism program. We wish to benefit from programs that do not prioritize the needs of tourists over the needs of resident population and address issues of poverty, malnutrition and marginalization.

7. For mandated government agencies to conduct annual on-site service delivery in the island to facilitate filing or renewal of permits to ensure compliance to policies and regulations;

8. For MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard to annually and objectively review the licenses of tourist boats plying the Bancal-Gigantes-Bancal route, particularly the tourist boats under the Carles Tourist Boat Association (CATBAS), apprehend “colorum” boats, and investigate boat fare hikes done without public consultation;

9. For DENR and the Iloilo Province to provide technical assistance for RA 9003 implementation and to provide guidance on the development of the Residual Containment Area (RCA) and Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP) in Gigantes. The four barangays are currently drafting their SWM ordinances with the assistance of UP Visayas (UPV) and the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE);

10. For BFAR and for the Philippine Coast Guard to establish permanent satellite offices in Gigantes to police illegal fishing and poaching and ensure the safety of resident and transient populations at sea;

11.For the Department of Tourism Region VI to provide technical assistance for the accreditation of resort establishments in the island and to provide more capacity building for the accreditation of Gigantes-based Community Eco-Guides; and, 

12. For the Department of Tourism Region VI to study other alternatives to self-closure.

The signatories include:

Barangay Officials of Asluman
-Barangay Officials of Gabi
-Barangay Officials of Granada
-Barangay Officials of Lantangan
-Island Sustainable Development Alliance
-Gigantes Resort Owners Association
-Gigantes Eco-Guides Association
-Granada Motorcycle Drivers Association
-KAMMAS, Gabi
-Asluman Vendors Association
-Granada National High School Baylon Campus
-Granada National High School Ballesteros Campus
-Asluman Elementary School
-Gabi Elementary School
-Granada Elementary School
-Lantangan Elementary School
-Philippine Life Saving
-BRSSIC Project – University of the Philippines Visayas

-Residents of Asluman, Gabi, Granada and Lantangan

Islas de Gigantes is an island chain consisting of several islets like Cabugao Gamay, Bantigue, Cabugao Daku and Pulupandan.It is one of the top tourist drawers in the province.IMT