Tourism boom caught Siargao unprepared

Erwin M. Mascariñas, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 04 2018 04:42 AM

Tourism boom caught Siargao unprepared 1
Right before sunset, a surfer carrying his surfboard walks towards the Jacking Horse surfing area in General Luna, Siargao Island. Erwin Mascariñas, ABS-CBN News

Famed for its surfing spots and uncrowded beaches, Siargao Island saw more foreign and local visitors during the Holy Week.

But as tourism grows, it caught the local government, villagers, and business establishments unprepared, which left them grappling with garbage problem and lack of better medical services.

"The number of tourists just overwhelmed everyone. It ballooned beyond what we had prepared for," said Siargao tourism coordinator Janette Pontillo.

The municipal gymnasium had to be opened for visitors who didn't have a place to stay.

Records from Caraga Regional Tourism Office showed that some 15,000 tourists visited Siargao Island in 2017, a 25 percent increase from 2016. The tourism office has yet to release the number of visitors during this year's Holy Week.

A medical professional, who requested not to be named, raised concerns about the medical services on the island.

With the increasing number of vehicular accidents recorded in the island, he said the local government is not prepared, especially in emergency situations.

This was echoed by Roel Catoto, a surfing enthusiast and a journalist, who cited the need for first aid responders.

"We’ve seen accidents in the beach, where several tourists got injured, but no emergency medical services have been set up. This need has never been addressed properly," he said.

Last week, journalist Karen Davila posted about her family's traumatic experience in Siargao Island wherein her son got injured in a surfing incident.

Davila was upset that her son's surfing instructor "suddenly disappeared" after supposedly showing her husband a store to buy antiseptic, cotton, and gauze.

Not only it took them some 45 minutes to seek medical help from the immediate vicinity, there was also no available medicine.

The Siargao Island Surfing Association has confirmed that the trainer was not an accredited surfing instructor.

"We only have 14 instructors certified by the International Surfing Association. All of our instructors are trained to assess risk and create contingency actions. We are also trained to provide emergency response and first aid in case accidents would occur,” said SISA president Wilmar Melindo.

Following the incident, Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas issued an executive order that requires all municipal mayors in the island to provide 24/7 medical assistance to the public and ensure a sufficient supply of medicines.

“To further ensure the safety and welfare of the tourists and locals, we have organized the rescue team composed of trained personnel from the Provincial Health Office and Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office on standby along frequently visited tourist areas in the island, including Cloud 9 in General Luna. This team will be able to provide the immediate medical response in emergency situations to augment/reinforce the existing health care personnel and doctors of the Rural Health Units in the locality,” Matugas said in a statement. 

"Through the Municipal Government of General Luna, for all beach resort operators to help the local government and law enforcement agencies to ensure peace and order in their respective establishments by providing security officers and installing CCTV. First aid treatment should also be required from all resort operators and tourism-related establishments, including lifeguards, especially in establishments with swimming pools or along the beach, and they are to immediately coordinate with the government rescue teams,” Matugas added.