Sixteen years since her first dive, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia dived again in the seawaters of Moalboal, seeing the famous sardine run near the shorelines of Panagsama Beach in Barangay Basdiot.
The activity jumpstarted the re-opening of the town's tourism activities.
In her speech, Garcia recalled the time she got to dive in Moalboal with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after garnering over a million vote margin in Cebu in 2004.
After taking her oath of office at the Capitol grounds, Arroyo had expressed her desire to see Moalboal's famous cathedral of corals and asked Garcia to learn how to dive.
“And there I was in the swimming pool, learning how to breathe to this mouthpiece. The following day I travelled together with the President all the way to Moalboal and there, my very first dive happened right here in Moalboal,” the governor reminisced.
Garcia continued to serve as governor for three terms, travelling around the Province, but never forgot her first dive.
“I continued to serve for the next nine years, doing dives in other parts in the Province, but I will never forget my first dive, like you never forget your first love - first love never dies. Mao nang pinangga gyud kaayo nako ang Moalboal,” she said.
“You learned that I have my first dive here in Moalboal and that is why it is only right, knowing fully well that tourism is not about leisure, it is about livelihoods especially here in Moalboal. That is why I have tried so hard together with our Provincial (Tourism) Task Force so that we can once again re-open tourism activities right here in Moalboal,” she said.
Before she signed the Executive Order (EO) NO. 20-A establishing protocols solely for tourism activities, she went around the Province together with the Provincial Tourism Task Force.
Executive Order No. 20-B created the task force where Garcia serves as the chairperson, and the regional directors of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as vice chairpersons.
The members include the regional directors of the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command in Task Group Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.
“We did the rounds, as you know we were together about two or three weeks ago because before I signed the Executive Order I chose to listen first to all stakeholders in order to get the right inputs and in order also to explain and clarify the whys and wherefores of that Executive Order 20-A,” Garcia said.
She added that they reached all the way up to the north to Daanbantayan to visit Malapascua Island, which is also a prime tourist destination in Cebu.
However, she never thought that Canadian national Lee Gallant, a diving operator, would campaign against the Provincial Government's policies and try to influence other operators and even barangay captains to join his cause.
The Province is open to those who wish to come, invest and do business here, she said, but investors must follow the laws and never undermine the government or else they have to face her.
Garcia expressed her gratitude to the Moalboal Diving Association (MDA) and Moalboal Mayor Paz Rozgoni for exercising her political will in taking a stand of what was previously agreed during their dialogues.
With the reopening of tourism activities in the Province, Garcia said she cannot promise zero Covid-19 but assured that health protocols are in place pursuant to her EOs.
Being the mother of the Cebuanos, Garcia has to weigh on not just the people’s lives but their livelihood as well.
“And that is why I had to take these bold and courageous steps. Because if it were just up to me alone, because if I were not governor of Cebu today, I really would not care. But then last year I once again crisscrossed this entire Province asking the Cebuanos to vote for me and they did, hasta diris Moalboal,” she said.
“The Cebuanos once again chose me to be governor of Cebu and I consider that a sacred duty to look after the welfare of the entire Province of Cebu. Not just for a privileged few who can afford to ride through lockdowns for months and months and months but for the greater majority, who have to earn for their daily consumption, who must go back to their livelihoods so their children can go to school, so they can buy food for their families, so they can hope for a better future,” she added.
As governor of Cebu, she will always hold paramount the welfare of the entire Cebuano population.
“Welfare means balancing security and safety for their lives, and at the same time, ensuring that livelihood will resume. Dunganon ta ni pagpanalipod sa kinabuhi, sa pagpabuhi sa panginabuhi,” she stressed.
Garcia ended her speech by quoting a few lines of the Mabuhi (Ka Sugbuanon) song which reflect Cebuanos' current situation: “Pagkadaghan na nga giagian ta, mga pagsulay og Covid 19 pa, apan kay ligdong kaman og may baruganan gipasigarbo mo pagka Sugbuanon mo.” (Mylen Manto)