GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island (MindaNews/11 June) — Some 20 surfers lined up at Cloud 9 surfing spot in Barangay Catangnan shortly after lunch time on Tuesday.
The swell was not higher than a house ceiling but the waves were just right for young local surfers to show some stunts.
Beginners with their instructors tried to catch the smaller waves.
From the wooden tower a few meters from the beach, tourists watched and might have been amused by the site of surfboards and surfers rolling along with the white wash.
General Luna had had drawn a steady influx of tourists, both domestic and foreign.
An average of 60,000 to 70,000 tourists arrived here every year in the last three years, Municipal Mayor Jaime Rusillon said in an interview. Most of them visited the town for its famous Cloud 9, especially during international surfing competitions in September.
The mayor, however, said cleanliness and tourism facilities need to be improved and maintained.
For one, the wooden bridge towards the three-story tower about 50 meters away from the shore has to be repaired. It allows surfers and viewers to be closer to the action.
Business owners here are also concerned about solid waste management, beautification, medical facilities, and safety. Some tourists wanted the place to be less noisy from passing motorbikes. The construction of a tourism road has piqued some visitors.
Yet, while Siargao Island had contributed to the country’s growth through tourism, Rusillon noted that they still need support from different sectors to take the next bigger step.
“We need money now for tourism development,” he told MindaNews on Wednesday.
Over a decade ago, Rusillon’s wife Cecelia, the municipal mayor then, issued an order to collect a 10-percent tourism tax from resort owners. Rusillon said the tax will be used for the “services rendered to the people”.
The implementation had not been effective, however, he said. That’s why he urged for an efficient collection this year.
He explained that years ago, “there was nothing here in Siargao, especially in General Luna”. Then, the local government welcomed investors with less cost for registration and permits. “In other words, the policy was do not tax them first,” he said.
“Now that they’re (investors) established already, we’ll start hitting them now. And tax them heavily. They can’t withdraw anymore,” he said.
Over a hundred accommodation establishments operate in town. And they had organized themselves as the Siargao Tour Operators Association, which was formally established this year but already existing since 2010.
They are willing to cooperate with the municipal government for a year-round tourism promotion in town.
A resort whose accommodation rate ranges from P3,300 to P5,500 a night (inclusive of three meals) may spend P16,000 to P18,000 for renewal of business permits and all other requirements. On top of that, it has a quarterly obligation of P6,500 to P8,000.
A resort also pays the municipal government P10 for every guest.
Siargao Island had produced two women champions in the international surfing competitions—sisters Nildie Rietenback and Nilbie Blancada.
Rusillon said he is proud to be one of the founders of the international surfing cup in Siargao, which is now on its 20th year.
He said every year, they need a budget of at least $40,000 for organizing, $30,000 of which will go to the prizes for winners.
Contestants who would come from neighboring islands and provinces will be provided free food and lodging as most of them are children of fisherfolk, he added.
The mayor also mentioned that he invited President Benigno Aquino III to attend the upcoming surfing cup. Former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo had once visited the island to witness the event.
This month is not the best surfing season in this side of Siargao Island. But, the small town of 17,000 residents is up for a challenge, while waiting for bigger waves. Surf’s up! (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)