CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews/19 July)—Not all of the 90 river guides in the city’s famous white water adventure have undergone training on basic life support and emergency first aid from the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
This was among the findings of Task Force Rapids, which was organized by Mayor Oscar Moreno following the river rafting accident that caused the death of a 26-year-old tourist from Bohol last June 14.
Task Force Rapids head Dorothy Pabayo, a former regional director of the Department of Tourism, said the task force is winding down its investigation after spending more than a month of coordination with different government agencies.
“We have come up with a set of recommendations that will ensure the safety of tourists riding the white water adventure tours,” Pabayo said.
She explained the task force was not organized to find out who was responsible for the accident but to ensure that tougher safety measures will be implemented by the six tour operators in the famous white water adventure.
“First, it was an accident, and second, we want that it will not happen again in the future. If indeed something will happen, a proper structure of agencies will be there to assist,” Pabayo said.
Pabayo presented copies of the investigation results and the recommendations to Moreno on Friday.
She said the task force recommended that the river guides undergo more training on river scouting, ferrying, Z-drag sessions, throw bag accuracy and swift water rescue.
She said the trainings will be supervised by the PRC and the Philippine Coast Guard, which will be the agencies that will issue accreditations.
Pabayo said the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) will also subject all inflatable rafts to periodic tests to ensure they are worthy to use.
“The Marina will mark all rafts with their own individual markings and conduct periodic checks,” she said.
Moreno lauded the efforts of the multi-agency task force he created following the death of Aizza Calipusan Balbin, the 26-year-old Boholana nurse who died after their raft capsized in the Cagayan de Oro River last June 14.
“But I can not say there is closure because the investigation has been concluded. I say the life of Aizza is not a closed chapter. She will continue to remind us to do our best to ensure safety in the tours,” Moreno said.
Moreno assured that he will not compromised safety in dealing with the adventure tours that made Cagayan de Oro famous as the “White Waters Capital of the Philippines.”
“We should be uncompromising on safety. This is the bottom line,” the mayor said.
Chisum Factura, of the Kagay Journey-White Water and Kayaking, said the accident involving Balbin was the worst that his company had experienced.
“We were in constant worry that I and our guides could not find time to sleep. We worried about how the parents of Aizza would react,” Factura described the days following the capsizing accident.
“I am looking at this business with a new meaning. More safety [measures are needed],” he added.
Factura said all tour operators have agreed to educate their clients about the nature of the dangerous sections of the Cagayan de Oro River, classified as Class III using the International Scale of River Difficulty standards.
Factura said they have identified at least three sections of the river as dangerous.
They are the “Rodeo,” where the raft of Balbin capsized; “Surprise,” the rapids before “Rodeo” which have strong currents; and “S,” a very tricky part of the river where only those classified as experts are allowed to raft.
Vital Espulgar, president of the outfitters’ trade association, the Oro Association of Rafters, and operations manager of the Golden Friendship Outfitter, estimated that at least 500 clients have backed out after learning of the rafting accident.
“We are feeling the crunch and we will wait how the city government can help us,” Espulgar said.
The city government has promised to help by asking local hotels promote the white water adventure tours again to tourists. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)