By Tara Yap
A 15-minute boat ride between the island province of Guimaras and Iloilo City has turned into a nightmare for tens of thousands of people as smaller wooden boats have been banned to transport passengers following the August 3 tragedy that killed 31 people.
Read more: Final death toll in Iloilo sea mishap: 31
Donna Mercine, 28, from Buenavista town in Guimaras blamed outright the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) for the knee jerk decision.
On normal days, motorized wooden boats carry passengers between the ports in Buenavista and Jordan towns of Guimaras to Iloilo City and vice versa.
But after the August 3 tragedy, the PCG only allowed steel-hull ferries and roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) vessels to carry passengers along the Iloilo Strait, the body of water separating Guimaras from Iloilo City.
MARINA also issued special permits for two separate ferry companies to ply the Guimaras-Iloilo-Guimaras routes, which previously never existed.
Mercine slammed how the public is paying the price for the “incompetence” of the PCG, which allegedly committed lapses when three passenger boats capsized.
“Kay damo napatay kag hindi kabalo mag rescue mga taga Coast Guard, pero sila pa nag hatag dugang nga problema sa mga ordinary nga tawo (Because many people died and the Coast Guard personnel did not know how to conduct a rescue, and they caused additional problems to the ordinary people),” Mercine lamented to Manila Bulletin.
For over a week, passengers have to line up for an average of three to four hours so they could get a ride. The lines at the Jordan Port in Guimaras stretch for almost half a kilometer.
The new transportation modes are more than double the price for the fare of the wooden passenger boats, which is only P15. The cheapest is the RoRo vessel with a P35 fare at the minimum while the ferry rides cost anywhere from P40-P60 per ride.
Fr. Jose Elmer Cajilig, who lives in Jordan town in Guimaras, said the big price difference of fares between the wooden passenger boats and the RoRo vessels or ferries has been an economic burden to working-class people.
Mercine added it is even worse for residents of Buenavista town as all RoRo vessels and ferries are only allowed to sail and dock at the port in Jordan town. It means that Buenavista residents have to pay another P30 or so for jeepney rides going to and from Jordan town.
The continuous ban of wooden passenger boats has also negatively affected the livelihood of those working as crew members, who have resorted to borrowing money to feed their respective families.
Governor Samuel Gumarin urged President Duterte Monday to understand the plight of the people of Guimaras after the sea tragedy and allow the return of the normal trips of the wooden passenger boats.
Gumarin admitted to Manila Bulletin that the current transportation scheme will further deteriorate the worsening socio-economic status in the island province that is highly dependent on Iloilo City for food supply and employment of its people.
“We need help. We cannot afford to go on like this every day,” Gumarin lamented.
But Gumarin pointed out that it was Secretary Arthur Tugade of Department of Transportation (DOTr) that announced last week during a visit to Guimaras that wooden passenger boats will no longer be used to transport passengers for the Guimaras-Iloilo-Guimaras route.