Fisherfolk tells Tourism Dept: ‘Hands off Gigantes Islands’

Gigantes Island
Gigantes Island Photo By PaintedCarpet, Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

MANILA — The fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) slammed today the Department of Tourism (DOT) for citing the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo province for closure. On July 10, Director Helen Catalba of Department of Tourism (DOT) recommended the temporary closure of the establishments catering to the tourists visiting the island. The three to four-month closure is said to be “a preventive measure” as Gigantes “may self-destruct”.

But, if it pushes through, around 12,000 residents, mostly fisherfolk, will be adversely affected, PAMALAKAYA said. The island’s tourism industry has become an alternative source of livelihood for small fishers after their fish catch dramatically dwindled with the island’s transformation into an eco-tourism hub.

Prior to the threat of closure, Gigantes Islands is being promoted as ‘the next Boracay.’ The fisherfolk group warns that indeed, Gigantes Islands might suffer the same fate of Boracay Island which is now under a six-month shutdown after President Rodrigo Duterte called it a ‘cesspool.’ Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson, said: “The Boracay closure has clearly set a precedent for the closure of other tourist islands and coastal communities to pave way for big-ticket projects at the expense of our local businesses and fishing rights of small fisherfolk.”

Hovering over the 6-month closure of Boracay is the issue of the approval to construct a Chinese-owned mega-casino in the top-ranking tourist island.

Another issue that various organizations have pointed out in the process of having shut down Boracay is the lack of transparency and clear rehabilitation plan amid the deployment of police and military to oversee the government’s plans.

Gigantes Norte as seen from the Visayan Sea, By PaintedCarpet – CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30242248

Why the closure when there are already national and local environmental programs that could protect and preserve marine resources and coastal areas if enforced properly? Pamalakay asked. Instead of enforcing a total closure that they foresee would adversely affect the livelihood of grassroots stakeholders like the fisherfolk, the group urges the national and local government to strictly implement the country’s environmental protection laws to protect its pristine marine resources “from corporate aggressors.”

“The government must cease and desist from the massive conversion of productive coastal communities and fishing waters into eco-tourism hubs and maintain our marine ecosystems as sources of livelihood of small-fisherfolk,” Hicap added.

The fisherfolk leader said his group will further scrutinize “the underlying motive” of the DOT to close Gigantes Islands.

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