Aerial shot by Ocapture - Rabi Ocapan Photography.

Power outage in Port Barton, a major travel destination in San Vicente municipality in northern Palawan, is affecting the tourism sector, which could result in a large decline in bookings for this Holy Week and postpone tourism recovery, according to business owners and local officials.

San Vicente tourism officer Lucy Panagsagan said Tuesday that Port Barton is only beginning to recover from the impacts of super typhoon Odette and the pandemic, with 25 visitors per day. Despite the fact that it is only 10% of the normal 200 arrivals prior to the pandemic, the local government unit (LGU) deems it a noteworthy number since 2020.

Port Barton is a village on Palawan’s northwestern coast, approximately 23 kilometers north of Roxas and 158 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa.

Travelers from around the world who love the laid-back vibe and natural beauty of a tiny coastal community on the edge of a rainforest flock to this tranquil and secluded spot.

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Sunset in Port Barton, San Vicente. (CARF photo)

But without electricity since April 7, Panagsagan warned that tourists may be less willing to visit Port Barton, potentially driving up the cost of tourism services if some businesses resort to utilizing generators to keep their operations running.

She said the number of canceled bookings as a result of Port Barton’s present power problems will be used to calculate the potential loss to businesses.

“Umiiyak at umaaray talaga ang ating mga tourism enterprises, especially itong mga tourism establishments na nandoon ngayon at kabubukas pa lang. Pilit kaming bumabangon pero papaano tayo babangon—panibagong dagok na naman ito sa amin—we never expected na mapuputulan talaga ng supply itong taga-Barton na karamihan sa ating tourism enterprises ay doon matatagpuan,” Panagsagan said.

(Tourism businesses, particularly tourism businesses that have recently reopened, are already crying and hurting. We’re trying to get back on our feet, but this is yet another setback. We didn’t expect the power to be cut in Port Barton, where the majority of tourism businesses are located.)

“Hinang-hina talaga sila at saka makakaapekto ‘yan sa arrival nila, naputulan na sila ng kuryente, bukod doon sa may solar source na alternative at generating set. Kahit na may generator sila, ang cost din naman ng fuel ay tumataas, ‘yon ay makakaapekto—sa costing ng mga services natin, magtataas din sila,” she added.

(Except for those who have solar power and generators, this has debilitated them and will have an impact on their arrivals. Because of the high cost of gasoline, even those with generators are affected. This will have an impact on the price of our services, which will rise as a result.)

The barangay’s power supply was shut off on April 8 after PowerSource Philippines, Inc. (PSPI) decided to temporarily halt operations in order to minimize sales losses.

PSPI general manager Carlos Rheal Cervantes and assistant general manager Ferdinand Pontillas wrote to residents and businesses in Port Barton on March 7 to say that their application for a “subsidy” for fuel costs had gone unanswered by the National Power Corporation (NPC) three years after their operation began.

PSPI claimed that they lost P286,340 per month during the period, totaling P6,696,347.

“Masakit man aminin pero ang katotohanan ay ang aming pondo sa ngayon ay unti-unti nang nauubos dahil sa patuloy naming pagbigay ng subsidy sa aming operasyon sa inyong barangay (It pains us to admit it, but our funds are gradually depleting as a result of our continued subsidization of operations for your barangay),” they said.

“Ang pagkaluging ito ay aming tiniis sa pag-asang maipagkakaloob ng gobyerno ang subsidy sa Port Barton (We endured this loss in the hopes that the government would supply Port Barton with a subsidy),” they said.

Thoreen Halvorsen, previous president of the Port Barton Resort Owners Tourism Association, Inc. (PBROTAI), said that P51 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) will be too expensive for the barangay.

“It’s like you’re slowly rebuilding and now two steps backward again. So, sana matulungan ang mga kababayan ko sa (I hope the residents can get help) Port Barton and not shut down the electricity for the economy of the place, but make the tourism and economic activity of the place more sustainable. I hope someone can help na ma-subsidize na ang kuryente sa (can get help to subsidize) Port Barton para lahat ng mamamayan ay handa at masaya sa muling pagbangon ng (for everyone to be ready and happy in beginning the recovery of) Port Barton,” Halvorsen said.

Rhodora Regodon, unsure of how to keep her tourist inn afloat, had no choice but to rely on solar power and a generator to be operational.

However, she claims that they are not at all helpful, given the exorbitant cost of gasoline that she has to shoulder.

She mentioned her inn has two room reservations for Holy Week, which she might lose due to the situation. She’s also concerned that her visitors may become frustrated as a result of their lack of power.

“Gaya ng marami, di ko na rin alam kung paano makakaraos sa sunod-sunod na krisis na dumarating. May pandemic, bagyo, hindi maayos na supply ng tubig, mahal na petrolyo at mga supplies, at ang huli ay power provider shutdown. Nagsama-sama silang lahat na mga hadlang sa pagbangon ng kabuhayan at industriya ng turismo,” she said.

(Like many others, I’m at a loss about what to do in the face of one disaster after another. There’s the pandemic, the typhoon, a lack of water supply, high fuel prices, and now this power outage. They all banded together to hinder our tourism sector and economy from reviving.)

Challenge for students
In addition to its effect on tourism, the power outage is also a challenge for students who rely on online lessons and modules.

Many students in Port Barton have been affected by the lack of electricity, according to one who reached out to Palawan News. As a result of the outage, they have been unable to charge their devices or attend online lessons.

“Puwede po humingi ng tulong? Wala na kasi kaming kuryente dito sa Port Barton, nag-total blackout dahil ang taas ng presyo ng kuryente. Hindi pumayag ang residente dahil from P26 ngayon P53 na po per kWh. Ang hirap po lalo na pinapasok na kami ng turista at yong mga estudyante tulad ko, hindi namin ma-charge yong mga tablet namin at hindi agad-agad makapag-print ng module,” the student said.

(Is it okay if we ask for assistance? We no longer have electricity in Port Barton; there is now a total blackout due to the expensive cost of electricity. Residents refused to pay power rates that used to be P26 but is now P51 per kWh. It’s especially difficult now that tourists have begun to visit us, as well as students like myself who are unable to charge our tablets or print modules.)

PSPI needs 500 signatures reoperate
PSPI is currently gathering 500 signatures to allow them to continue operating until May 31 if they can afford the whole tariff filed with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), including diesel.

According to the local tourism office, there are 1,958 houses and businesses in Port Barton that are affected.

Panagsagan is unsure if the community will take advantage of PSPI’s P51 per kilowatt offer to re-energize Port Barton, but she did say that the number of signatories has now surpassed 300, as of press time.

“Biruin mo ‘yan, talagang pikit-mata na tatanggapin ‘yong P51 per kilowatt hour para lang magkakuryente sila. Ang epekto nito, magmamahal din talaga ang cost ng tourism services, ganoon ang epekto niyan (Imagine they had to close their eyes and take P51 per kilowatt hour in order to have power. Tourism services will become more expensive as a result.),” she stressed.

She said the LGU consulted with the tourism industry, barangay council, and customers to learn about their concerns and potential solutions. She also stated that LGU works with national agencies such as the ERC to expedite the PSPI subsidy approval.

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