Some of the tour boats dry dock in Honday Bay which are possible to be completely damaged if will not operate until December 2021

Around 60% of tour boats in Honda Bay are at risk of complete ruin if they stay idle, as boatmen have been unable to restart operations since the pandemic ravaged the sector in 2020.

The Honda Bay Boat Owners Association Inc (HOBBAI) is made up of 79 boat owners who have been relying on delivering visitors to various island locations for years. In high seasons, around 110 to 115 small and large boats were utilized to transport approximately 800 to 1,000 visitors each day, and 300 to 400 on average days.

According to Reynante Rosco, vice president of HOBBAI, 60 percent of boats would be harmed if they are not utilized because owners are unable to renew their franchises with the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).

“Hindi kami agad nag-resume (last year) kasi takot pa. Siguro may pondo pang kaunti, akala kasi namin, expected namin ‘yan six months siguro, okay na. Six months siguro kaya natin tiis-tiisin ‘yan, may pondo pa na unti, mangisda-ngisda kaunti,” he said.

“Ang worst scenario diyan, ‘yong 60 percent pa na ayos pa na puwede pa mag-repair ay walang pera, mabubulok. Ngayon puwede mag-loan pero pambayad ang problema,” he said.

Rosco said that after resuming operations in May, just 20 boats were permitted to continue operations since their franchises were still valid until December 2020. Only 12 boat owners were able to renew their franchises in 2021.

“Nandiyan sa tabi-tabi (mga hindi nakapag-renew), naghihintay na masira,” he said.

“Iyong 20 na ‘yon, existing pa ‘yong papel nila hanggang December 2020 kaya tuloy lang sila. Pagdating ng December 2020, ang nag-renew ngayon ay 12 na lang. Iyan ngayon ang tumatakbo, na pagdating ng December 2021, mawawala uli ang dalawa dahil na pwede mag-renew,” he added.

Non-operating big boats at Honday Bay owned by the members

Reason for failure to renew
He said that about 80 vessels were unable to renew due to MARINA’s 10-year and beyond maturity of boats, which they first discovered in 2020. It can only be granted a five-year extension if the boat is rebuilt to 70 to 80 percent of its original condition, which would cost between P70,000 and P100,000 for large boats and between P40,000 and P50,000 for small boats.

Boats that were not renewed were dry-docked on neighboring islands and at the back of the HOBBAI headquarters. Some are moored and drifting in the water since they are not suitable for tourist transit. Since the outbreak began, he estimates that 10 to 15 vessels have been entirely destroyed.

“May mga bangka na nakatali, kapag ganyan lang estado ng isang bangka sa loob ng isa o dalawang taon, mabubulok ‘yan,” he said.

Cristina Boquena, one of the displaced tourism workers who is also affected by the decreased number of tourists due to pandemic

“Noong hindi namin alam ang batas na ‘yan, okay lang na kahit 10 to 15 (years) kasi may MARINA na nag-i-inspect taun-taon. Siya nagsasabi kung good pa o dapat na palitan. Ngayon lumabas na ‘yang ganyan, kahit good ka pa within 10 years, subject for rebuild,” he added.

Non-operational boats, according to Rosco, are caused by the maturity of their age, and owners are hesitant to renew owing to uncertainty about the recovery of expenditures.

“Kunyari 100 ang bangka natin, ang 70 percent doon ay wala na dahilan mag-renew dahil more than 10 years na. Iyong sampu ay existing, yong 20 nag-aalinlangan. Una siguro, walang pera na pampaayos kasi kung magpapa-renew ka, kailangan mo pinturahan, ayusin kaunti. Siguro mga P20,000 papatak din. Kapag may budget na, ayaw niya maglabas ng hindi siguradong babalik,” he said.

Due to a lack of local visitors and the absence of domestic passengers, boats in Honday Bay are currently only running twice a month. Others are hesitant to renew since there will be more competition with a restricted number of passengers traveling to several islands.

Impact of the absence of domestic and foreign tourists
Rosco thinks that roughly 20 boat owners would renew their franchises if the city government opens the local tourism business to domestic passengers by December 2021.

“Naririnig ko sa mga miyembro namin, sabi nila, tingnan muna kung magbukas ang domestic flights. Kung may sampung tumatakbo, kung maglimang beses man lang biyahe araw-araw, baka mag-renew kami,” he added.

It’s not only the tour boat operators who are affected by the pandemic. Even those who are getting their extra income not only affected the boat operators but also the desk officers and boat coordinators working for island resorts.

Rosco said that unlike their setup before, boatmen and island owners are only expecting guests during weekends.

“Weekends na nga lang, minsan wala pa kahit Sabado at Linggo,” he said, citing they are now only earning 10 percent of what they used to earn before the pandemic.

All of their members were reliant on tourism, but according to Rosco, some of them have begun to engage in fishing in order to put food on their tables. Owners who want to sell their boats for around P120,000 instead of selling them for the original purchase price of P500,000 are also looking for buyers.

Rosco said they are having a difficult time preparing and thinking about rate promotions since there would be no visitors arriving. To at least entice local guests, the HOBBAI has reduced its rates by up to 10%. He believes they will only begin to recuperate if tours rise to seven to eight per week within a month.

A rainy morning at Honda Bay wharf without the usual presence of tourists

Appeals of boat owners
“Ang unang inapela namin na sana ay huwag muna ipatupad ang maturity [na] 10 years na ‘yan. Hindi napapanahon ‘yan, hindi dapat ‘yan pinatupad sa panahon ng pandemya. Walang kita ang tao, pinatay mo ang industriya. Ang mga bangkang pipila sana pagdating ng turista, pwede mag-renew ng P20,000, ngayon dadagdagan ng pang-rebuild,” he said.

Rosco said that they must be allowed at least four years to rehabilitate before the 10-year boat maturity is implemented. They had previously spoken with MARINA and sent a letter via a house representative whom they did not name, but got no answer.

Additionally, they are appealing for the government to offer a zero-interest financing scheme to assist them in recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

Effect to families of tourism workers
Rosco began operating his two tour boats in 2009, and they are now threatened with deterioration if they are not renewed owing to the lack of funds.

“Nawalan kami ng hanap-buhay, ngayon embrace na lang, wala na magagawa. Embrace na lang kung anong meron. Kasi kapag na-depress ka, masisiraan ka pa ng bait. Nasanay kami dati sa medyo, sa middle-class kami na sector. Kung anong gusto ng mga bata namin, kaya kong bilhin dati. Ngayon, hindi na,” he lamented.

“Na-realize namin na ang dami kong maling nagawa dati. Sinubukan kami. Hindi siguro waldas, pinaranas ko lang sa mga anak ko ‘yong hindi ko naranasan dati. Pero na-realize ko na mali, kulang ang pag-iimpok ko kasi ilang buwan lang, ubos agad. Nagkagulatan,” Rosco said.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.