By: Emme Rose Santiagudo
IT HAS been a month since the Iloilo Strait tragedy killed 31 passengers on board the three motor boats on Aug 3, 2019.
But the situation in Guimaras province is still far from normal as Guimarasnons continue to endure the pains left by the worst tragedy recorded in the sailing history of the province.
For Guimaras Vice Governor John Edward Gando, it may take time for the situation in the province to go back to its normal phase.
“Kun ako pamangkuton kung naka-cope na kami sa tragedy, wala pa, ilabi na gid ang nagkalamatyan. Most importantly, ang mga pump boat operators, especially irregular ila operation. I think we are still reeling from the tragedy and unless otherwise nga amo ni ang byahe, daw mabudlayan kami mag-cope sa trahedya,” Gando told Daily Guardian in an interview on Tuesday.
Gando said the irregular motor boat trips due to bad weather conditions and suspension of motor banca operations after sunset took toll on passengers commuting from Iloilo to Guimaras and vice versa.
“Medyo malayo pa kami sa normal kay amo amo ni ang panahon, trips are being cancelled kay syempre malain ang tiyempo plus kun gab-i agony gid. We are enduring the long lines after sunset despite additional ferry boats nga naga-service sa Jordan and Buenavista,” he lamented.
The new set of protocols imposed by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) on motor banca trips, particularly the removal of tarpaulins, also affected the passengers, Gando added.
The erratic boat trips and the tragedy also saddled the tourism industry of the province.
“Luwas sa lean months na subong, ang mga turista nagnubo na gid base man sa aton mga observations,” he added.
Motor bancas Chi-Chi, Keziah, and Jenny Vince capsized last August 3, 2019, killing 31 passengers.
The incident prompted the suspension of motor banca operations for more than a week, resulting in transport difficulties for commuters in Guimaras and Iloilo.
More than a week after, MARINA officially lifted the suspension and finally allowed motor bancas to resume operations.
However, the operations were subjected to a set of conditions such as all tarpaulins/canvass of motor boats shall either be rolled-up or removed; motor bancas shall carry passengers up to 75 percent of their authorized capacity only; and boat trips are only allowed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Passengers since then have clamored of the heat or rain that they had to endure during their trips.
The tragedy also prompted the national government to review the operations of wooden-hulled boats.
MARINA together with partner government agencies and private stakeholders recently pushed for the phase-out of wooden-hulled motor boats to pave the way for modern ships.
This is apart from the development of port facilities in both Iloilo and Guimaras and the construction of the Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge that was put again into picture because of the incident.
According to Gando, they have been open to interventions, particularly the motor boat operations although it may be a gradual process especially the modernization of the motor boats.
“Ang associations are open, mostly willing to implement the modernization, I think the operators have already embraced the fact that sooner or later we will have to modernize our vessels kay nalantaw namon nga by doing this, madula nila ang stigma, ang stigma that was branded to the vessels nga indi safe amon motor bancas,” he said.
As to the protocols, Gando said they can only do so much as public officials as they have to respect the policies and issuances of duly constituted agencies and national government.
“The Marina in the region already recommended nga ibalik ang tarpaulin but wala pa subong naaksyonan. Kami nga government officials, may responsibilidad man kami nga magtaha sang mga issuances sang national government,” he added.
He also revealed that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan passed a resolution on Tuesday asking the national government to prioritize the Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge.
“There is really a need to construct that bridge kay indi ta gid mapaktan kag para ang Guimaras will never be isolated again,” Gando stressed.
He also encouraged the national government to upgrade the Philippine Coast Guard, particularly its logistics and equipment as this is the more important issue that should be prioritized after the incident.
“Ang PCG dapat matagaan gid pagtamod sang gobyerno ang ila competence, logistics, and equipment,” he said.
To recall, survivors of the tragedy pointed out lapses committed by the PCG, especially during the rescue operations hours after the triple capsizing incidents.
This even triggered a PCG-Marina joint investigation, and legislative inquiries by the Guimaras provincial board and Iloilo City Council.
Despite the horrors and lessons brought about by the tragedy, Gando said he is confident that Guimaras will cope, survive, and rise again.
“Ang aton mga opisyales, nagatinguha gid nga mapahagan hagan ang epekto sang sini nga trahedya nga wala naton ginalauman nga naabot gid sa probinsya sang Guimaras. Ang amon mandate is to look after the general welfare of the people, not just the particular group but the entire group and hopefully sa bulig sang aton Ginoo, we can say that we will survive, we will cope and rise again,” he noted.