By: Emme Rose Santiagudo
AFTER Boracay Island underwent a six-month rehabilitation closure last year, tourists have been flooding the Gigantes Islands in Carles, Iloilo because of its promise of white-sand beaches, highly comparable to that of Boracay.
As early as 2010, the promising chain of islands has been gaining popularity especially on social media for its crystal-clear water and lagoons, sand bars, and gigantic rock formations.
But now, the tourism department is once again pushing for the temporary closure of Gigantes Islands in the hopes of saving it from the same or even worse fate that Boracay Island had suffered.
“I recommended the temporary and voluntary closure of Gigantes Islands if the people want to save it. Because if pabay-an lang na, in the long run, it will ‘self-destruct’ and it will be worse than Boracay Island,” Department of Tourism (DOT) 6 Regional Director Atty. Helen Catalbas warned in a press conference on Wednesday.
Catalbas expressed her dismay on the overmarketed and overpromised Gigantes Islands that has been clouded with several underlying issues on sanitation and transportation.
“Gigantes is terrible… It is overpromoted, overmarketed, overpromised but when you go there, it’s not a comfortable ride for you,” she lamented.
According to Catalbas, the transportation going to and from the Islands had been a perennial problem ever since.
“It is a long way from the gateway which is in Iloilo Airport and then the land trip is so long plus the uncertainty in the schedule of transport unless you charter, when you come back is another thing,” she said.
This is on top of other issues in the islands such as garbage, lack of comfort rooms, unaccredited tour operators, and overpriced food.
In fact, Catalbas said that they have become unaggressive in the promotion of the islands, emphasizing that “we cannot overpromise and underdeliver.”
This was not the first time that Catalbas recommended the temporary closure of Gigantes Islands.
Last year, the tourism department also recommended the that area will be temporarily closed for three to four months following inspections made by various government agencies showing presence of coliform and policies that were not implemented.
Recently, one of the main tourist attractions in Gigantes Islands, the Tangke saltwater lagoon was ordered closed for the whole month of September to give way for its rehabilitation and cleanup activities.
But for Catalbas, it is not enough that only the Tangke in Gigantes undergo temporary closure.
“I recommend the one-time closure of Gigantes, not only Tangke because for me that’s just a small part of the Gigantes, I recommended for the temporary closure of the islands if they want to save Gigantes,” she stressed.
She underscored the need to conduct an updating session and dialogue with the local government officials of Carles, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other stakeholders to discuss issues concerning the islands.
“We need to follow through the first session of dialogue last year that is why need siguro to exert pressure kay governor nga ifollow through ang dialogue between all the stake holders because in the long-term madula gid na,” Catalbas warned.
In a phone interview on Saturday, Carles Mayor Seigfredo Betita said he is very much willing to cooperate with the recommendation of the tourism department.
According to Betita, any intervention from the local and national government is a big help to the islands, emphasizing that Gigantes would also want the same transformation of the famous Boracay Island.
“Para man na sa kaayuhan sang tourism industry ta, mas mayo na gane nga masulod gid ang gobyerno para makabulig gid, tan-awa ang Boracay, kundi kanami subong kay they entered into a rehabilition para mapakay-o teh amo man na ang gusto namon,” he said.
Betita admitted that most of the locals were unprepared and lacked finances to sustainably cater the tourists flocking the islands.
“Kon magsulod ang gobyerno, macooperate gid kami kay ang mga tawo di mga pobre lang, indi gani sila kabakal katre ayhan ang iban pa nga facilities,” he lamented.
The mayor said that he had been encouraging the locals to look for investors or partners to help them with their finances.
He added that they are constantly monitoring the islands.
Betita said that he already issued a directive on the unaccredited establishments operating in the islands to secure their accreditation from the DOT.