CDO’s whitewater rafting operators feel crunch

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 June) — The whitewater rafting adventure industry that has made the city famous among tourists has suffered a backlash caused by bad publicity over the June 13 accident that claimed the life of a nurse from Bohol.

Vital Espulgar, president of the Oro Association of Rafters (OAR) and operations manager of the Golden Friendship Outfitter group, said over 200 tourists cancelled their tours last week because of the accident.

“Many of those who cancelled are parents whose children have booked tours and corporate employees who have planned to go white water rafting with us,” Espulgar said.

“Many of those who called to cancel told us they got scared after learning of the accident,” he added.

Another tour operator, Rex Tapungot of Red Rafts, said 104 of his clients for this weekend have also cancelled their tour.

Dorothy Pabayo, who heads Task Force Rapids said an estimated P600,000 in potential business earnings was lost with the withdrawal of 200 tourists last week.

“This does not include the loss of business potential in the local hotel industry and transportation business,” Pabayo said.

Pabayo made it clear that Mayor Oscar Moreno did not order the suspension of the whitewater adventure tours even as they conducted refresher courses to ensure the safety of tourists.

Dale Vallejos , safety staff of the Philippine Red Cross said the first batch of 27 guides underwent a refresher course that included basic life support, cardiopulmonary resuscitation for adults, and emergency first aid.

Vallejos said the next two batches will undergo training next month.

Meanwhile, Gerome Garcia, a pioneer in the whitewater adventure tours denied he was blacklisted for allegedly resorting to “flipping” his rubber rafts to provide thrills to his clients.

Garcia said the practice of “flipping” is also common among the six tour operators that comprise OAR.

He said there were other “serious accidents” that were “unreported” by the tour operators.

“There is no official record that I am blacklisted. If I am blacklisted, why only me when other operators are flagrantly doing it,” Garcia said.

“Flipping,” the act of intentionally turning an inflatable raft upside down by river guides, is prohibited by City Ordinance no. 12029-2011 enacted on June 7, 2011.

Pabayo said she would ask Garcia, whose outfitter firm is licensed in Baungon, Bukidnon, to join and participate in the implementation of safety measures in the conduct of whitewater adventure tours.

“Everyone who conducts white water tours, does business along Cagayan de Oro River should participate. Let us save this industry,” she said.

Chisum Factura of the Kagay Journey-White Water and Kayaking said they have voluntarily suspended their operations so their 15 guides can attend refresher courses conducted by themselves and the PRC.

He said their guides have completed three of the six safety courses they have outlined to strengthen their safety protocols.

Factura said “Philip”, the river guide who steered the boat that met an accident resulting in the death of 26-year old Aizza Calipusan Balbin, has been distraught and traumatized by the incident.

“Philip” did not attend the two-day refresher course conducted by the PRC and attended by 27 river guides at the City Tourism Office on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Factura said they have seen it fit for “Philip” not to attend the refresher course and instead undergo a trauma debriefing along with the other guides who participated in the recovery of Balbin, who was missing for two days after their raft capsized last June 13.

Mark Jeoffe of the International Rafting Federation said the raft of Balbin and “Philip” slammed into the side of a huge limestone outcropping catapulting the boat and throwing all aboard into the water.

Three of Balbin’s companions and “Philip” survived the rampaging waters of the Cagayan de Oro River.

“We noticed he was very withdrawn after the incident so we felt he should go a trauma debriefing along with the rest of our guides,” Factura said.

It was learned that Philip has yet to give a full account of what transpired during the rafting accident.

Pabayo said the city government is studying proposals increasing the accreditation requirements of river guides who are paid P400 to P600 per trip.

“The key to safety is how the guides will react to any emergency,” she said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)