Bohol politics and earthquake business
Highlighting the tourism component of church ruins, geological fissures and formations that practically redrew Bohol’s landscape is Governor Edgar Chatto’s way of kick-starting the recovery of the local tourism industry, reportedly the biggest source of revenue for the province. It is said that for every tourist visiting Bohol, three people are benefited.
While the private and public sectors are focused on rebuilding or retrofitting churches in Loon, Baclayon, Loboc, Dimiao, Loay, among other centuries-old structures destroyed by the quake, the rehabilitation timetable has provided a window for local and foreign tourists to visit these places. Even sinkholes have become attractions. Crevices that reveal stalactites are now called geo-science spots. Although they triggered fears of landslides among the local population, local officials are upbeat the cracks will become tourism moneymakers. In fact, the jutting 3-kilometer rupture in barangay Anonang in Inabanga is being packaged as the Great Wall of Bohol.
But while Gov. Chatto is digging deep into his bag of tourism strategies, how true are reports that some local government officials are themselves making it difficult for the industry to get back on its feet?
The news from Bohol nowadays is the conflict between the local government of Loboc and a thriving Loboc River cruise operation.
The Loboc River cruise is very popular with local and foreign tourists as it allows visitors to enjoy local cuisine while watching the verdure that thrives along the river. The cruise lasts for 30 minutes and costs P400 more or less. The last time I took the cruise was in 2007, when the rates were below P300.
The most popular among river cruise operators is Tessie Sumampong who owns the Loboc River Watch Floating Restaurant (LRWFR). More than 80 percent of Loboc River cruise customers are walk-ins and LRWFR has reportedly cornered the lion’s share of the market.
A few days after the killer quake, it was reported that a group of Bohol students who went on a Loboc river cruise suffered “food poisoning” after eating rancid shrimps served during the cruise. The incident prompted Loboc Mayor Helen Calipusan-Alaba to push for the merger of all river cruise enterprises ostensibly to ensure the welfare of customers in terms of safety and good service.
The proposal was submitted to the local council prompting Sumampong to protest loudly. She decried the move as unfair and stressed that the local government unit should focus on the erring operator. She added that “Mergers should be voluntary and should not be forced.”
While the local chief executive campaigned for the merger, LRWFR announced the popular river cruise will offer a “quakelicious” menu to attract more visitors. However, the “earth-shaking” event did not come to pass because the mayor guarded the docking area to enforce a “take turns” or “turno” policy. Reports didn’t say if the “turno” was in fact part of the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed merger. News reports didn’t also indicate if the mayor exhibited an official document to validate claims of “dangerous cracks” in the docking area.
In any case, the policy was supposed to make walk-in visitors have an orderly ride, but in truth, they were denied the right to choose which boat to board. You guessed right, the most affected operator was the more popular LRWFR.
I wonder if Mayor Alaba conducted a public hearing to get the cooperation of stakeholders because she cannot force the “turno” policy down the throats of business operators without inviting accusations that she is a tyrant, or worse, she has a vested interest in the river cruise business. There are unconfirmed reports a cousin is fronting for the mayor in a river cruise operations, while her older brother and former mayor is involved in a tourist-oriented business in Loboc.
Sumampong is reportedly seeking the advice and support of the Bohol Chamber of Commerce but I’m not sure if this will help her cause because businessmen in general don’t want to tangle with politicians. In Bohol’s tourism sector, the mayor’s permit is an important document in getting accreditation from the Department of Tourism. I will not be surprised if come January next year, LRWFR will have problems with basic business documentation.
As for efforts to resuscitate Bohol’s most important industry, Gov. Chatto should know that the combination of politics and business is even more disastrous than the earthquake.
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