PUERTO GALERA, Oriental Mindoro—Not even the rain stopped Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco from joining divers in Puerto Galera town, Oriental Mindoro in a scuba diving activity on Wednesday (April 12) – in a show of support to the tropical paradise which remains 100 percent open for tourism.
Secretary Frasco was joined by Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan, Undersecretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination and Resource Generation (TRCRG) Shahlimar Hofer Tamano, and Region 4B Director Zeny Pallugna at the La Laguna Point, a popular dive spot in the local travel destination.
Secretary Frasco, who sits as the chairman of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD), said that the DOT’s presence in Puerto Galera shows the commitment of the current administration to help the industry recover not only in times of crisis but also during challenging situations.
“Puerto Galera continues to be unaffected by the oil spill and it continues to open itself to tourism worldwide. We are hopeful that through the efforts of the Provincial Government of Mindoro, our local government units, our mayors, our congressmen, as well as the help of the regional office of the Department of Tourism that tourism recovery and transformation under the Marcos Administration will continue. Notwithstanding the difficulties, the challenges, and the calamities this province has and is facing, the Philippines, including Puerto Galera and Mindoro continues to be a beautiful tourist destination,” she said.
In an interview with the media, she said that the visit is also to encourage more tourists to continue visiting Puerto Galera as it remains unaffected by the oil spill caused by the sunken tanker MT Princess Empire off the coast of Oriental Mindoro last February 28.
“Napakaganda ng Puerto Galera! We are very hopeful that the message is sent across to everyone that they should come and visit Puerto Galera,” enthused the tourism chief.
Apart from its white beach, Puerto Galera is famous for its scuba diving spots offering diving veterans and even enthusiasts a diverse view of the underneath, combining an impressive view of shipwrecks, corals, and other marine life.
Local tourism data showed that from April 3 to 10, 2023, a total of 18,757 tourists visited the tropical paradise, of which the top source of foreign markets are China, South Korea, the United States of America (USA), Japan, and Germany.
Mayor Ilagan, who also joined the DOT secretary and other officials in the diving activity, expressed gratitude to the Department for paying a special visit to the town, citing that Secretary Frasco was the first tourism chief to set foot in Puerto Galera since 2003.
“For us dito sa bayan ng Puerto Galera, we are grateful na dumating ang Tourism Secretary. Maraming salamat din sa ating Regional Director ng DOT, kay Usec. na nandito rin ngayon, di ko maipaliwanag kung gaano kami kasaya after so many years,” he said.
While the town is still oil slick-free, there are at least 66 tourist attractions that have been affected by the oil spill from the sunken tanker, and over one thousand four hundred tourism workers were affected, thus the visit, according to the Secretary.
Tourism aid for workers, municipalities affected by the oil spill
Viewing the oil spill incident with grave concern, the Secretary also led the distribution of Certificate of Tourism Grants to leaders of Community-based Sustainable Tourism Organizations (CBSTO) from the various Local Government Units of Oriental Mindoro. The certificate entitles the organization to tourism training interventions with starter kits for alternative livelihoods while they cannot engage in their present occupation due to the oil spill.
She was joined by DOT Assistant Secretary for TRCRG Maria Rica C. Bueno, Congressmen Arnan Panaligan of the 1st district, and Alfonso Umali, Jr. of the 2nd district of Oriental Mindoro.
These organizations included: San Teodoro’s KAMI; Calapan City’s SMARTT, KAKAMBAL, and SNPS; Pinamalayan’s SAMBA, SNR, and Wawa Womens; and Gloria’s Samahan ng Mangingisda ng Agsalin and Sta. Theresa Fishermen Association.
“Kaya naman po nandito po tayo para magbigay ng Certificate of Training Grants sa ating mga frontline tourism workers to be able to offer alternative livelihood sa kanila that is not necessarily related to their present occupation but may offer work in the tourism industry nevertheless. And that includes agri-tourism as well as other skills related to tourism offerings, the point is that we continue to push for livelihood and employment under the Marcos Administration through tourism,” she said.
According to Frasco, the DOT will provide training programs to the affected tourism workers in the municipalities including Gloria, Pinamalayan, Naujan, San Teodoro, Pola, Bulalacao, Mansalay, and Calapan City; topics range from Farm tourism: Urban Farming; Tourism Micro Retail: Beadwork and Lei making; Food Tourism; Kulinarya Training; Health and Wellness Tourism: Hilot Training, and Basic Haircutting Training.
To the delight of the tourism workers present, the tourism chief committed funding for qualified tourism-related projects through the Tourism Infrastructure and Economic Zone Authority (TIEZA) for each of the affected municipalities.
“Magbibigay po tayo ng 2 million pesos for each affected LGU for any tourism-related project that will fall under the guidelines of the financial assistance of TIEZA,” said the tourism chief.
“And so, it’s very important for us to be able to balance the need to manage the crisis and the need to ensure that livelihood and employment continues and that is why andito po tayo para po mabigyan naman po ng support yung ating local government units, yung ating mga tourism workers na hindi po sila nag-iisa at saka yung fear po siguro na other people may have in their minds because of the oil spill should be dissipated by the fact na patuloy po yung ating tourism offerings dito sa Puerto Galera on one hand and on the other hand, nandito po yung gobyerno para tumulong sa ating mga affected tourism workers in other parts of Mindoro,” the tourism chief concluded.
Recipients of the DOT grants also expressed their utmost thanks to the tourism chief and the entire DOT.
Other local officials who personally met with the Secretary were mayors Henry Joel Teves of Naujan; Joselito Malabanan of Victoria; Nemnem Perez of Socorro; Jennifer Cruz of Pola; Ferdinand Maliwanag of Mansalay; Ernilo Villas of Bulalacao; as well as vice mayors Marlon Lopez of Puerto Galera; Marvin Rivera of Pola; Rodel Magsino of Pinamalayan; Romeo Edward Alvarez of Gloria; Richard Candelario of Bongabong; and Ramon Magbanua of Bulalacao.
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