Puerto Galera still open for tourists, DOT clarifies


SOME 1,000 tourism workers and 63 tourist spots have already been affected by oil spill off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, even as the Department of Tourism (DOT) clarified that Puerto Galera is still unaffected and safe to visit.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said affected tourism frontliners will be trained in capacity building and skills upgrade to prepare them for alternative work opportunities.

The oil spill, which has reportedly reached some portions of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a global center of marine biodiversity, occurred following the sinking of oil tanker MT Princess Empress. The tanker carried an estimated 800,000 liters of oil and was only recently found by a Japan-led search team.

Appearing in Teleradyo’s Sakto on Monday, Frasco said in mix of English and Filipino, that Puerto Galera remains open for holidaymakers: “As far as the top attractions in that particular area, including Puerto Galera, we’re pleased to inform the public that they are still at over 90 percent capacity as far as reservations are concerned. We invite our fellow Filipinos to patronize Puerto Galera as their tourism offerings continue. At the same time, we will continue to give whatever assistance we can to the areas that have been affected [by the oil spill].”

In a press briefing last week, Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan confirmed that many tourists had already canceled their resort bookings on the mistaken notion that the oil spill had already reached the municipality, popular for its white beach and dive sites.

He blamed the University of the Philippines marine scientists for the cancellations after it issued projections on the movement of the oil slick toward the VIP due to the weakening of the amihan (northeast monsoon). The VIP encompasses the coasts of Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon.

Affected by the oil spill

IN 2019, prior to the pandemic, over 49,000 tourists visited Oriental Mindoro, most of them to Puerto Galera, generating P3.5 billion in visitor receipts. Ilagan said tourist arrivals in the popular beach destination have reached 20,000 a month and may likely surpass pre-pandemic levels.

According to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on March 22, 2023, the following cities and municipalities have been confirmed as affected by the oil spill: Batangas City; Naujan, Pola, Pinamalayan, Bansud, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay, Gloria, Bulalacao, and Calapan in Oriental Mindoro; Agutaya and Taytay in Palawan; and Caluya in Antique.

“Per our monitoring, the oil spill has affected 63 tourism sites and up to 1,000 tourism workers. This includes our community-based tourism. And so, we are monitoring this very closely, and I’ve already directed the regional offices to craft a recovery action plan to guide our affected tourism stakeholders, and we are sure to provide social protection for our affected tourism workers,” said Frasco. The DOT chief recently warned that tourist activities in the Mimaropa region would be affected if the oil spill remains unchecked. (See, “Oil spill can set back tourism recovery of Mimaropa—DOT,” in the BusinessMirror, March 7, 2023.)

Aid for displaced workers

She added that she has already directed DOT’s regional offices in Mimaropa and Western Visayas to consolidate the names of all affected tourism workers for endorsement to the Department of Labor and Employment, so they can avail of  assistance under the latter’s Tulong PanghanapBuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program. TUPAD provides a package of emergency assistance to displaced workers, along with underemployed and seasonal workers for a minimum of 10 days to a maximum of 30 days.

“At this point, it’s really about ensuring our tourism frontline workers that in case they are not able to work for a few days or weeks because of the oil spill, we are able to provide them with alternative sources of livelihood. That is why we will be providing trainings to them, not just specifically focused on their present work but [for] alternative types of work,” said Frasco.

The DOT, through its Office of Industry and Manpower Development (OIMD), will also assess the affected tourism stakeholders to develop a training module on oil spills, to better equip them for similar incidents that can happen in the future.