Privilege Speech of Congw. Ma. Lucille L. Nava, MD about the 8.3.2019 Sea Tragedy

The Honorable Ma. Lucille. Nava L. Nava, MD, Representative of the Lone District of Guimaras, delivered her Privilege Speech about the 8.3.2019 Sea Tragedy, during the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress at the Plenary Hall, House of Representatives on August 13, 2019.

FULL TEXT:

“Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, I rise with regards to the maritime tragedy that happened in the Iloilo Strait between Guimaras and Iloilo City last August 3, 2019.

Motorbancas have been the major means of marine transportation between Iloilo and Guimaras since the sailboats or paraws lost its steam several decades ago against this faster and dependable rival locally known as the pump boat. Since its adoption as a means of transportation, there were only a handful of motorbanca accidents recorded. The last was October 18, 2015, wherein 2 crew members and 7 passengers died. That was the worst motorbanca accident ever recorded along the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait until the fateful day of August 3, 2019.

Still, the Province of Guimaras is lingering from this heart-breaking maritime tragedy that left 31 people dead from among 96 passengers and crews of the 3 motorbancas plying the Iloilo – Guimaras route and vice versa. Unfortunately, the problem aggravated by the day as the island province experienced severe maritime transport shortage. Commuters, mostly students, traders, workers employed in Iloilo, and patients on follow up in Iloilo City, are queueing up in a very long line, more than 500 meters long, for hours just to get a chance to board a vessel to Iloilo. I am sure the same thing is happening on the other side to a lesser magnitude.

Iloilo, after all, is the major trading partner of Guimaras. It is the primary option for tertiary education and for tertiary health care and it continuously provides employment opportunities to Guimarasnons. Construction materials, petroleum products and almost all other goods pass by the City of Iloilo before it reaches Guimaras. With Guimaras agriculture and tourism industry, it is not difficult to imagine why there are more or less 18,000 commuters that cross the Iloilo Strait daily and almost always on board motorbancas plying the Iloilo – Guimaras route and vice versa, while the big cargoes are transported through the RORO vessels. However, the abrupt suspension of the operations of motorbancas had put a sudden stop to this progressive economic activity. Now, after economically dislocating the motorbancas’ crews and its allied occupations, it is slowly taking its toll on the island province’s economy. I am sure that it will not be long before the provincial government declares another state of calamity, which they did last month due to the Dengue outbreak. Fortunately, just this morning, the ban on motorbancas was temporarily lifted with the following restrictions, 1) fair weather only 2) 75% passenger capacity 3) rolling or removing of tarps/shade 4) wearing of life vest throughout the voyage.

We recognize and appreciate the outpouring of support from various government agencies with no less than His Excellency President Rodrigo R. Duterte, and Secretary Arthur Tugade leading the way, as well as those coming from the private sector. We would also like to thank Vice President Leni Robredo for visiting Guimaras and offering her support to the families of the casualties and the survivors.

We too, are deeply appreciative of the lifting of the ban. Yet it cannot be denied that more help is still necessary and very crucial for our island province to return to normalcy.

Thus, this representation is imploring the ardent support once more of the various agencies, especially the Department of Transportation for the following priority interventions which will further ease the situation, to wit:

1. Continue to increase the number of vessels plying the Iloilo-Guimaras route and vice versa to accommodate the daily commuters which number to more or less eighteen thousand (18,000) daily. Presently the vessels deployed can accommodate approximately six thousand (6000) passengers only.

2. To extend the moratorium on the Certificate of Public Convenience for wooden-hulled motorbancas plying the Iloilo-Guimaras route and vice versa subject to the newly adopted restrictions for a reasonable period of time to finally comply with MARINA CIRCULAR NO. 2016-02, or the Revised Rules on the Phase Out of Wooden Hulled Ships Carrying Passengers in Domestic Shipping.

3. To grant the wooden-hulled motorbancas Special Permits for chartering or whatever mode of contracting, as water taxis, in the conveyance of and for; a) cargo b) Tourism c) medical emergencies, and its eventual adoption of such. This intervention will minimize the economic impact on those who will be displaced by the eventual retirement of wooden-hulled motorbancas as a regular passenger conveyance.

4. Eventual improvement and expansion of the Jordan RORO wharf to include among others, the construction of more berthing facilities and a passenger terminal. Likewise, the improvement of the Municipal Wharves of Jordan and Buenavista to accommodate new vessels other than motorbancas.

This representation, Mr. Speaker, is confident that with the realization of these interventions we can sustain the economic opportunities in the Province of Guimaras. Furthermore, the realization of the Iloilo-Guimaras Bridge would never once again isolate Guimaras in extreme weather conditions and will surely catapult the island province into greater economic heights.

More than a week had passed since the tragic incident, but the question “why so many died” continues to haunt Guimarasnons. The site of the incident is less than 2 kilometers away from the wharves of Jordan and Buenavista in Guimaras, as well as from Parola in lloilo City where the berthing areas for the motorbancas are located. Technically, it is well within the sight of anybody standing from these areas. Parola, ironically, is also the location of a Philippine Coast Guard Station. Can we therefore say that these incident happened right at the backyard of a coast guard station? What further haunts this representation is why there was a third boat more or less 3 hours after the 2 boats capsized? Why was the third boat not immediately recovered that day? The third boat was washed ashore some 16 kilometers away from the site of the incident, and was recovered the following day with 11 bodies inside and along the said boat. These are not the only questions that haunt this representation, and it haunt not only this representation but as well as many of the residents of Guimaras and Iloilo, much more of the families of those who perished in this tragedy. We will continue to speculate of the things that transpired that day. We will continue to imagine what could have been done that day. Not until we get hold of an official report from the Philippine Coast Guard, which this representation had been seeking for over a week now, that we shall know if we will continue to experience one maritime tragedy to another or have the chance to put an end to it. We have all the time to work together and guarantee a safer way to travel, let us do it now.

Nevertheless, I believe in the Guimarasnons’ resiliency. If we had prevailed over the oil spill of August 11, 13 years ago, I am confident that the Guimarasnons will once again overcome this adversity!

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”