Participants included students, businessmen, motorboatoperators and workers, motorcycle and jeepney drivers, and resort owners, amongothers. The Department of Tourism Region 6knows what it has to do: reassure tourists that it remains safe to cross theIloilo Strait. But Director Helen Catalbas acknowledges there’s a lot to do. MARINA actually ordered the phase outof all wooden-hulled passenger motorboats and replace these with aluminum- orfiberglass-hulled ones but boat operators said the cost was prohibitive. “What Guimaras is currently gettingare independent or individual travellers, small groups. Gone are the big groupsof tourists crossing the Iloilo Strait to visit the island in buses and vans,”said Catalbas. Stakeholders present includedrepresentatives from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Maritime IndustryAuthority (MARINA), local government units of Guimaras, tour operators,resorts, hotels, and restaurants. “In the minds of tourists, it’s noteasy, it’s not safe to go to Guimaras anymore,” lamented Catalbas. According to the Guimaras ProvincialTourism Office, 19,439 same-day tourists visited the island in August and16,908 in September – significantly lower than the 49,295 visitors recorded inAugust 2018 and 31,856 tourists who came in September last year. From the Parola wharf, the berthing area of motorboats plying the Iloilo City – Guimaras route has been temporarily moved to the old wharf of Bacolod City-bound fastcrafts on Iloilo City’s Muelley Loney Street to give way to the dredging of the mouth of the Iloilo River. IAN PAUL CORDERO/PN Last month a group calling itself Hugpong Guimarasheld a “unity walk” in Guimaras to dramatize the sorry plight of the provincedue to the tightly regulated operation of motorboats. “We have to respect the ‘safety first’policy of MARINA and coastguard,” said Catalbas, “but we have to come up withsolutions which will allow tourism and Guimaras to move forward.” Wearing black shirts, they called for the return of the way motorboatsoperated prior to the Aug. 3 Iloilo Strait tragedy. “We will reposition Guimaras as a safedestination. We need to assure tourists that traveling to Guimaras is stillsafe. But we have to get the commitment of all stakeholders,” she said duringyesterday’s inter-agency dialogue at a hotel here. Tourism has become one of the maineconomic drivers of Guimaras which boasts of export-quality sweet mangoes,beaches and dive sites. The PCG and MARINA imposed strictmeasures on sea travel following the Aug. 3 Iloilo Strait tragedy. Theseincluded limiting motorboat trips (from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. only), removal orrolling up of tarpaulins or canvas that give shade to passengers, and mandatorywearing of lifejackets throughout the trip. Catalbas also suggested that fastcrafts and roll on, roll off (roro) ships make themselves available for chartertrips of big groups going to Guimaras. Stakeholders also agreed to lobby withMARINA to reconsider one restriction – the removal or rolling up of tarpaulinsor canvas that protect passengers from the scorching heat of the sun. ILOILO City – After the capsizing ofthree motorboats that drowned 31 people in the Iloilo Strait, tourist arrivalsin the island province of Guimaras dropped by 73 percent in August andSeptember this year from arrivals recorded in the same months last year, datafrom the Guimaras Provincial Tourism Office showed. “Our plea is that for the time being, samtang wala pa ang modernization, ibalik ang trapal with some modifications,” said Fred Davis ofHugpong Guimaras. “With a lot of events and conventionsin Iloilo City, Guimaras has to be ready to accommodate tourists. Whether weadmit it or not, whether we realize it or not, Guimaras is one of theattractions of Iloilo City. They (visitors) come here for events and they hopeto cross to Guimaras which is only 15 minutes away,” said Catalbas. One of the things that dialogueparticipants agreed yesterday was to modernize or improve motorboat services. Gov. Samuel Gumarin of Guimaras and Cong. Lucille Nava themselvesearlier warned of the economic dislocation of motorboat operators, crew andtheir families if the phase out of wooden-hulled boats is not done gradually./PN
World number nine tennis player Tomas Berdych has said he is undecided whether to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics because of health fears over the Zika virus.”The Olympics are still on my schedule and in my plans,” Czech Berdych, who is seeded 10th at this year’s Wimbledon, told British media.”It (Zika) is definitely something that is in my mind. I have to really look at it and think about it. (Also read: Golfer Rory McIlroy withdraws from Rio Olympics over Zika fears) “I just need to see how all the things are going and then make the best decision for myself (nearer the time).”US health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.TEMPORARY PARALYSISThe World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,400 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.Last week, the WHO said that the Games did not need to be moved or postponed because there is “a very low risk” that holding the event in Brazil will cause further spread of the virus.An expert WHO panel on Zika concluded that staging the event during the Brazilian winter means the mosquito population will be smaller and intensified mosquito-control measures in place around venues “should further reduce the risk of transmission”.advertisementRORY MCILROY QUITSGolfers Rory McIlroy, a four-times major winner, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Fiji’s Vijay Singh, along with U.S. cyclist Tejay van Garderen have already announced they will skip the 2016 Games because of the Zika threat.DJOKOVIC FOCUSED ON RIOTennis world number one Novak Djokovic, however, said he is fully focussed on the Aug. 5-21 Games.”I’m still planning to go to the Olympics. It’s going to stay that way,” Djokovic said.