CDO eyes imposing tougher requirements for river guide permits

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews/28 June)—Those wanting to become river guides in the famous white water adventure along the Cagayan de Oro River will find it harder to get an accreditation or possibly licensing from government agencies, officials said.

Dorothy Pabayo, who heads Task Force Rapids, said they are studying the idea of having the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) supervise the accreditation or licensing of river guides.

Representatives from the MARINA Region 10, PCG, and non-government organizations (NGOs) met Friday afternoon with Task Force Rapids and Cagayan de Oro white water adventure tour operators at the City Mayor’s Office.

Pabayo said the meeting—the first of a series– hopes to come up with stringent measures to ensure the safety of tourists riding the white water adventure tours.

A raft of Kagay Journey-White Water and Kayaking agency carrying four tourists recently capsized in the Cagayan de Oro River resulting to the death of Aizza Calipusan Balbin, a 26-year-old Boholana nurse.

“This accident has wakened all of us. The question now is what can we do more to ensure the safety of the tourists,” Pabayo said.

Pabayo said Task Force Rapids is also asking MARINA to conduct regular inspections on the inflatable rafts and other gears used by the Oro Association of Rafters (OAR) in the white water adventure tours.

During last Friday’s meeting, MARINA, PCG and NGO representatives questioned the tour operators on their safety protocols.

Balbin’s death is the first since white water adventure rafting made Cagayan de Oro famous 15 years ago.

“What went wrong? Up to now there are three critical areas to look at: the guides, the tourists, and their rafts,” Francis Rivera, of the Safety Organization of the Philippines Inc., said.

Harry de Villa of the Alert 10 radio group, proposed to the tour operators to buy waterproof, ultra-rugged radios that cost between P8,000 to P15,000 instead of using mobile phones for communications.

“Many sections along the Cagayan de Oro River are dead spots for mobile phones. A handheld radio is a better option,” de Villa said.

De Villa also asked tour operators to increase the river guides assigned to the inflatable rafts from one personnel to two.

“The raft that I and my family rode in our tour also capsized and our lone river guide found it hard [to save us]. Lucky that I know how to swim,” he said.

There are 90 guides employed by the six outfitter tour operators who hold the franchises for the white water adventure tours in the Cagayan de Oro River.

Depending on the safety seminars they underwent and how many tours they guided, the guides are divided into “seniors and juniors.”

Chisum Factura, of Kagay Journey-White Water and Kayaking agency, said river guides are paid from P400 to P600 per trip and many are residents living along the Cagayan de Oro River.

Dale Vallejos, safety staff of the Philippine Red Cross, said river guides are required to undergo and pass trainings on basic life support, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, emergency first aid and swift water rescue.

Pabayo said the key to safety in the river lies on the competency of the river guides, adding that white water rafting is always a dangerous water adventure.

“They are the captains of those small rafts. The tourists are their engines. They compel their passengers to paddle to safety,” she said.

Pabayo recommended that the regular 10-minute safety briefing before the tourists begin their tour should be extended to allow them to know the risks and minimize it.

She also recommended that tour operators should have river guides that can speak “an international language.” (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)