Residents of Barangay Logon, popularly referred to as Malapascua Island, are brimmed with hope and excitement as Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia officially reopened its tourism industry.
The island barangay in Daanbantayan town, northern Cebu is one of the top destinations in the Province flocked with local and international tourists during the pre-Covid times.
But when the pandemic started and quarantine restrictions were imposed since March, all of the island’s locals and businesses lost their livelihood and income.
“Pasalamat kaayo ko kay Gov na gi-open na balik ang tourism diri sa isla because for many months, we had no income,” expressed Gary Cases, owner of Sharktail Dive Shop and the first Filipino dive shop owner in the island.
His shop, which has been operating for 19 years, was forced to close down and his employees were left with no work.
The same goes for Ramon de Dios, owner of Mabuhay Treasure Dive Resort which started as a food stall in 2005.
“Zero (income) gyud for nine months,” shared de Dios, adding that he, too, had to let go of his employees as he could no longer sustain the business.
Garcia emphasized that the main goal of reviving the Province’s tourism industry is to bring back the livelihood of the Cebuanos.
“As governor, I am responsible for the lives and livelihoods of millions of Cebuanos. I cannot just step back and say the popular thing which is to be scared of Covid right now,” she said.
Instead, she chose to push for the reopening of tourism for the benefit of the daily wage earners whose jobs depended on especially for a tourism-based island like Malapascua.
“Too many people are suffering not because they are afflicted by Covid but because of a Covid-19-afflicted economy,” the governor stated.
Garcia personally visited the island Sunday, November 22 to deliver the good news to the Logonanons together with the members of the Cebu Provincial Tourism Task Force.
Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 Director Shahlimar Tamano urged Malapascua resort owners and tourism operators to secure the necessary certificates and authorities to operate from DOT, Philippine Commission on Sports SCUBA Diving (PCSSD), and the Cebu Provincial Government so they can resume their operations.
He commended the Executive Order (EO) 20-A issued by Garcia establishing the protocols and guidelines to be followed in the Province’s tourism revival.
“This is the most comprehensive EO you will find in the country imposing stricter measures not for the sake of government, but for tourism,” he said.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Assistant Secretary Asteria Caberte committed the agency’s continued support to the tourism revival and other local initiatives geared towards economic recovery.
She shared that the DTI delivered hardware materials to 20 boat operators in Malapascua Island, fulfilling their promise made during the consultation in June.
“We hope those 20 will soon be back to income generation again. The conversation doesn’t stop here. We will continue to visit Malapascua,” Caberte added.
Domestic tourism first
Garcia, however, emphasized that the reopening is intended for local tourism at the moment since foreign travels in the country are still restricted.
“Let’s not pin all our hopes in international tourism alone, it will come. Let us encourage domestic tourism. That should be a start,” she said, adding that only President Rodrigo Duterte can lift foreign travel restrictions.
Garcia also shared that many domestic tourists expressed relief with the reopening for locals as they no longer felt the need to compete with foreign tourists in the Province’s destinations.
“Cebuanos are now given first priority in our own island because there is no need to fight with foreigners in our tourism activities,” she said.
The governor also said she is set to meet with the governors of Bohol, Siquijor and Negros Oriental next month to discuss the reopening of the Central Visayas tourism circuit.
Better, cleaner Malapascua
Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura expressed his happiness and excitement with the tourism reopening as Barangay Logon in Malapascua Island is the “most affected barangay” in the town.
“Almost all residents wala’y trabaho. Ang mga taw nanagat na para mabuhi, grabe ilang efforts to sustain the needs of their families,” he said.
With the reopening, everyone in the island have been preparing for the tourists’ arrival.
Shimura said the town has developed and maintained the marine sanctuaries around Malapascua where tourists can snorkel.
He assured the tourists can see the beautiful marine life as Malapascua divers have regularly cleaned the seabed from plastics and other wastes.
The mayor also added that the island now has its own police outpost and a clinic with a doctor ensuring the health and safety of both locals and tourists.
Garcia commended Daanbantayan and Malapascua Island officials and stakeholders for conducting clean-up drives and planting various plants and vegetables in the island while stricter community restrictions were imposed.
She expressed becoming hopeful and inspired seeing the island starting to blossom again.
“The economic shutdown in the past nine months gave an opportunity for the seas to breathe again,” Garcia said, urging the Logonanons to be hopeful as well.
“There is hope for the Province. We are moving on and moving forward,” she added. (Lianne Llesol)