EDITORIAL: A lesson from the Slovakian rape case

The boatman from El Nido, who is the suspect in a rape case filed this week by two Slovakian tourists, was presented to the media this week by the provincial government. This, after extending assistance to the foreign nationals in filing the case before the provincial prosecution office.

The matter has received utmost attention from the provincial government, which deployed its resources beyond what may be necessary, including personal attention from the Governor Jose Alvarez, to make up for the negative experience suffered by the foreign visitors. Governor Alvarez said at the outset of the press conference he was concerned that incidents like this give Palawan a bad image overseas and negate the efforts they are doing to promote tourism in the province.

The concern is of course justified, and it does not help at all that El Nido is currently having a bad rap because of the findings by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of rampant environmental and zoning violations by commercial establishments in the town proper.

Governor Alvarez vowed to meet with local officials of the province’s tourist towns to ensure that incidents like that involving the Slovakian nationals are not repeated, and other issues that have hounded the tourism sector are addressed. It is a natural reaction from anyone concerned about trying to improve the way things are done. The real challenge, however, is understanding and recognizing the problems and their root causes, as a first and necessary step to identifying meaningful interventions or solutions.

When the boatman was compelled to speak in front of the reporters, what he said outside of his denial that he raped the two women was revealing of the way tours are done in El Nido. He admitted that he was not a tour guide and was not licensed as one, but on the same breath he also said that often he functions as one.

What his admission indicated is that the town’s practices on equipping its tourism frontliners with the proper attitude and adequate skills are not within the parameters of the ideal. In El Nido, one does not have to be a licensed tour guide to attend to the needs of visitors. In other places where tourism is flourishing, this state of affairs is an anomaly.

In El Nido, as in almost everywhere else in Palawan, the rules are more relaxed. It is, sadly, within this kind of environment where problems come about. Before the incident involving the Slovakians, there was another involving an American. Not too long ago, two Japanese nationals went missing and were believed murdered while on a visit to Culion.

When there are no rules, chaos reigns.  It is this same situation that encouraged commercial establishments to crowd the beautiful cove of Bacuit Bay until there was any  sand anymore for people to walk on.

It is easy to find faults in El Nido and in other places in Palawan that are similarly situated, such as Coron. It is also fairly easy to suggest solutions and interventions, like President Duterte threatening to close down Boracay if the problems are not solved. Making these solution happen and bear positive results however is harder to achieve, especially if government and the other stakeholders will fail to recognize these problems.

With El Nido going through tough times, here is hoping that the Slovakian incident will at least trigger an overhaul of the way the local industry manages its front liners — from the tricycle and van drivers to boatmen and tour guides, and everyone in between. Perhaps a more stringent policy of accrediting frontliners is needed, among other corrective interventions.

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