MANILA - Journalist Karen Davila on Friday took to social media to narrate her family's traumatic experience in Siargao island.
Davila, anchor of late-night newscast Bandila and ANC's Headstart, said she and husband DJ Sta. Ana brought their sons David and Lucas to the island that has become famous for surfing.
They were billeted at Isla Cabana, a resort popular for its white sand beach front and she booked surfing lessons for her sons. The resort then outsourced a surfing instructor, Junrey Taoy, who recommended a second instructor to tend to Davila's other son.
"I specifically told Junrey and Jocol (Valerio), David needed special attention as he has challenges in coordination - being in the autism spectrum. David however is sporty and trains regularly, swims quite well, boxes and runs. Jocol said, almost flippantly, 'madali lang yan, kaya yan'," she wrote in a Facebook post.
David and Lucas then trained at Jacking Horse, the designated surfing area in Cloud 9 for beginners, while Davila and her husband lounged on the shore. She said the waves were "strong" and the area was "crowded with tourists - foreigners, locals, many with families and small kids."
About 30 minutes later, she said, David ran back "bloodied, with his rash guard ripped apart" and telling her that he had "an accident."
"I have to say, I was in a moment of suspended disbelief," she said, adding that her husband attended to David while she searched for Lucas, who was still out training.
"I WAS SPEECHLESS. My son’s whole chest, was bleeding from crisscrossing abrasions with a deeper gash under the right rib, clearly from hitting the rocks on the shallow waters, his chin bruised and covered with blood, his right hand in cuts like that from a small knife," she wrote.
Davila said what got her "very angry" was that David's trainer "suddenly disappeared" after supposedly showing her husband a store to buy antiseptic, cotton and gauze.
"No one was there to assist my husband or my son who was bleeding! No nurse, no first aid, NO ONE," she wrote.
While the resort owners offered to bring them to the nearest hospital, Davila said it was a 45-minute drive from where they were.
At the hospital, she said there were no tetanus vaccines available and the trainer had to take his motorcycle to buy the medicine as prescribed by the doctor.
"While there was a doctor and a nurse on duty, very helpful and attentive - there were no medicines. Foreigners were at the ER with us and I wondered, how do they attend to so many foreigners visiting the island with this set up?" she said.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACTION
Davila said she spoke with Mayor Jaime Rusillon of General Luna and his daughter Dra Romina Rusillon to express her concerns and "raised alarm bells over the set up in Cloud 9."
Among those that she told the mayor was that the surfing "instructors have no professional certifications. No requirement to be certified. No system of vetting trainers. Anybody with a surf board, who wants to earn P500 an hour can train."
She also raised the lack of lifeguards on the beach and of a nearby first aid clinic.
"The attitude of some of instructors on Cloud 9 is, “ay nasugatan”.... and stare at you like it’s absolutely natural. No panic, no rush, just local chit chat like it happens all the time, and it’s not that big a deal. Safety clearly isn’t top priority," she said as her fourth point of concern.
"Now, let me make it clear. I am well aware, accidents happen anywhere in the world. Surfing is an extreme sport. But so is skiiing, bungy jumping, paragliding, diving....but accidents can be prevented. And they are in many tourist destinations by putting safety measures and first responders in place," she said.
She said the person who trained her son David was "not capable and trained to teach minors" after learning from Junrey, who handled Lucas' training, that former did not take her son further into the sea "which is safer for beginners as there are no rocks."
"Once a town is SOLD TO TOURISTS, the primary responsibility of both the national and the local government is to ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE TOURISTS. PERIOD," she wrote.
The Department of Tourism said the provincial government of Surigao del Norte had issued safety and waste management policies, but the municipality of General Luna was the only area that did not comply with the directives.
"All municipalities followed the Governor's order EXCEPT the mayor of General Luna," Tourism Usec. Kat De Castro said in statement.
De Castro said more (rescue) teams were dispatched to "crowded areas such as Cloud 9, Magpupungko and the Boulevard" since the incident.
Davila said the owners of the resort they stayed in, Dingdong and Mildred Pabillore, "were very helpful."
They also wanted surfing instructors to be certified in Siargao since they often outsource and recommend instructors because they don't have their own.
The mayor, however, reasoned that there were no clinics, nurses, or life guards in the surfing area because "we're a 5th class municipality and we lack doctors, and we are not ready for the influx of tourists, we were shocked.”
"WHAT?! I’m not going to detail... but wasn’t P1.2 BILLION allocated for Siargao to improve infrastructure to boost tourism? Wasn’t a multi-million sports complex built?! All this infra and Siargao can’t afford to professionalize its trainers, put full time first aid clinic and life guard for tourists to support the VERY industry that put it’s name on the map?" she wrote.
Rusillon then proceeded to invite her to the surfing competition in September, saying that will be "complete" with nurses and life guards.
"ANOTHER...WHAT?! I asked him, why not ask the resorts to chip in if you really don’t have the budget? With over 100 resorts in Siargao, imagine at P500 a month per resort, that’s P50,000 for a full time first aid clinic," she said.
Davila said she spoke with one of the owners of a resort in the town and is also one of the officers of the Siargao Island Surfers Association and Siargao Tourism Operators Association, and was told that "the resorts are basically on their own, with no help of assistance from the LGU."
"Now, this is ridiculous. Siargao thrives on tourism. Both the LGU and resort owners, businesses are interdependent on the success of the island," she wrote.
Davila then called on the Department of Tourism to act on Siargao "right away," emphasizing that life guards and first aid clinics at the beach are a must and "an every day responsibility."
"It’s time we professionalize surfing instructors as they do in other countries. Let’s stop being a backyard operation that may cost the lives of people," she said.
"Our first visit was traumatic but I remain GRATEFUL. My son is safe, others may not have been so lucky. Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and people who helped us along the way," she added.
"I want to highlight this so action can be taken before anything worse happens. Hopefully, something good will come out of this for Siargao. I love the Philippines," she said.