By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Cooperation key as revised rules and regulations on SCUBA diving readied

Posted on February 16, 2015

THE PROPER handling of SCUBA diving as an outdoor sport is what the agency mandated to regulate the activity is aiming for as it crafts an improved set of rules and regulations (IRR) for it even as stakeholders underscored the need for cooperation to make the reforms successful.

Revised rules on SCUBA diving that are more efficient and in tune with the times are being readied by the Tourism department. -- www.facebook.com_Philippine-Commission-on-Sports-SCUBA-Diving-PCSSD
In an announcement made recently, the Philippine Commission on Sports SCUBA Diving (PCSSD), an attached agency of the Department of Tourism (DoT), said it is in the “final stages” of work before coming out with an IRR that is more efficient and in tune with the times.

The agency said it is targeting to release the revised rules in the first quarter of this year.

The improved IRR is a product of a series of public consultations conducted by the PCSSD wherein various stakeholders of the industry were invited to give their input to better the conduct of SCUBA diving as an outdoor sporting activity in line with the country’s thrust to make it a key tourism product as identified in the National Tourism Development Plan.

The crafting of the new IRR was backed by the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), a study funded by the Government of Canada and administered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB-CIDA) which resulted in a formulation of an RIS or Regulatory Impact Statement.

The RIA was conducted to identify the best type of regulation fit for the Philippines. The development of the SCUBA diving RIS is part of the “Philippines Improving Competitiveness in Tourism” program, a $7.1-million technical assistance given to the DoT, and funded by the ADB-CIDA.

Primordial in the crafting of the IRR is the “safety issue,” Karen Chan, PCSSD executive director, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview.

Among the actions incorporated in the IRR relating to safety concerns are stronger regulation of dive establishments which are not conforming to mandatory accreditation, ways to improve the skill level of dive professionals in the country and implementation of efforts to bridge the lack of skilled manpower in the industry for it to be globally competitive.

Also to be addressed are issues on dive fees and requirements relating to “health issues, information gaps and environment concerns.”

Ms. Chan said that the country is endowed with very spectacular diving areas, underscored by its archipelagic structure.

The Philippines ranks high as a destination among SCUBA divers all over the world and was cited by the Scuba Diving Magazine as one of the best diving destinations in this part of the world along with Malaysia.

Officials, however, did not give actual figures on the number of tourists and revenue derived from diving but as per published reports last year (not in this paper), divers make up not less than five percent of the country’s tourists while revenue in diving makes up a quarter of the total tourism revenue.

“In 2013, Tubbataha was able to welcome 1,189 visitors who paid P3,000/head (it is P3.6 million). In Mabini, Batangas it had 60,273 visitors who paid P200/head (it is about P12.1 million) and Apo Reef 3,850 visitors paying about P1,650/head (P6.4 million),” Ms. Chan offered for overview purposes.

The crafting of the new IRR, stakeholders say, was longtime coming, citing how the previous rules date back to some 30 years ago.

The process, Ms. Chan said, was no easy task for them at the PCSSD.

“There is a big gap that the PCSSD needs to bridge because there was a distant relationship with the SCUBA diving stakeholders. There were communication gaps and the dive stakeholders were in the dark with whatever the PCSSD is doing. Now, we are trying to become more inclusive to the people who operate on the ground -- the stakeholders,” she said.

Ms. Chan, however, said they are satisfied with the outcome so far.

“In general, the reception of the stakeholders was positive. There were questions and concerns raised but ultimately, they were constructive and contributed to the development of the IRR. The input of the stakeholders were very important. There were a lot of valuable insights which would contribute in the improvement and strengthening of the contents of the IRR,” she added.

“The DoT spent a lot of time and effort on the regulations. I think the ideas [of the IRR] are good. We really have to assure the safety of the divers. It’s not enough to be friendly. You also have to have the proper tools and equipment to do the job right,” Dieter Heinz, general manager of Mares Philippines, a diving equipment distributor and operator of a diving school, told BusinessWorld in an interview.

“Definitely. It is time [for the new rules] to be put up. The worst thing you can have is to have no rules. Having the wrong one now is not good but no rules is definitely a problem,” he added.

For Adie Espino, general manager of Aquamundo, another equipment distributor, she is taking a wait-and-see stance on the matter, citing the vastness of what needs to be done.

She is particularly concerned on the monitoring of dive instructors and guides, many of whom are “not dive instructors” and freelancers, she said in a separate interview.

Nonetheless, she said that she is hoping that the new rules will be implemented well.

“Basically all we can hope for is that after they implement [the rules] it will be monitored so as not to be taken advantage of...,” Ms. Espino said.

It is a sentiment shared by Mr. Heinz, saying: “The success of the whole process will be in execution. Having the proper rules is one thing but to execute and implement them in the whole islands is another.”

For Ms. Chan, cooperation of the stakeholders is very important “to make the easing in and implementation to be effective.”

“We have shown them (stakeholders) our sincerity and goodwill -- all for the advancement of the Philippine SCUBA diving industry which is lagging behind its Southeast Asian neighbors that are harnessing the SCUBA industry’s full potential,” she said.