ILOILO CITY — Local government units (LGUs) in Guimaras have been advised to develop agriculture for the time being pending the resolution of disrupted boat service to the island province which caused tourist arrivals to drop 74% in August.

Department of Tourism (DoT)-Western Visayas Regional Director Helen J. Catalbas offered the department’s help in marketing Guimaras produce in Iloilo.

On Aug. 3, three boats sank in bad weather in the Iloilo Strait, leading to the imposition of restrictions on the ferry services that the island depends on. The restrictions include limited hours of operation, which has made day trips less manageable and put visitors at risk of missing their return trips to the Panay mainland.

“This is a challenge. LGUs, municipalities, province, please look at your (farming) potential. If you need training, we will help you. You need to partner with huge establishments, with which we can help you,” she said during an inter-agency dialogue of public and private tourism stakeholders on Oct. 3.

Ms. Catalbas cited the example of 40 farmers in Jordan, Guimaras who were trained to supply produce to SM City Iloilo.

She said one of the DoT’s plans is to offer market-day trips to Jordan, which faces Iloilo city along the strait.

“With more farmers being trained, Jordan will be the bagsakan (wholesale supply hub) in Guimaras. We have identified 20 potential markets in the region, but we will start with Jordan,” she added.

During the dialogue, Guimaras Governor Samuel T. Gumarin reported that visitor arrivals from Aug. 4-31 fell 74% year-on-year.

“We only recorded 11,432 arrivals compared to the 43,709 in the same period in 2018,” he said, adding that tourism receipts also dropped to P9.8 million from P42.9 million.

Meanwhile, stakeholders are still pushing for the resumption of 24-hour boat service between Guimaras and Iloilo with safety provisions in place.

The Integrated of the Bar Philippines (IBP)-Guimaras Chapter has filed a civil action before an Iloilo Regional Trial Court to lift the restrictions imposed by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).

“The 24/7 navigation is possible because it only takes 15 minutes from Iloilo to Guimaras, we don’t really need the (restrictions),” IBP-Guimaras Vice-President Tomas E. Jungco, Jr. said.

Marjorie T. Mella, owner of Jem Home Farm in Guimaras, expressed support for the IBP’s action, although she said even opening up boat service until 10 p.m. would address the situation.

“If they can’t give us 24/7, maybe extend our travel at night time because it’s very difficult for us. It hasn’t been an easy ride for us,” she said.

MARINA-Region 6 Director Jose Venancio A. Vero, Jr. said the protocols were approved at the national level and are intended to protect the public.

“As regards (the) 24/7, we have an existing policy… we cannot do anything because that is a policy set by the national (government),” Mr. Vero said.

He also noted that prevailing weather conditions sometimes make the Iloilo Strait and the channel from Iloilo to Guimaras “treacherous.”

He said wooden-hulled motorboats are suitable only for daytime navigation. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo