PH’s tourist havens: Pollution’s not the only problem; lack of medical facilities is, too.

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Indon surfer, Cloud 9 Siargao
A surfer tastes the surf at Cloud 9, the same area where broadcaster Karen Davila's sons trained, with one sustaining injury. FILE PHOTO by Erwin Mascariñas, News5 | InterAksyon

MANILA – Long before President Duterte’s remark about Boracay’s waters being a “cesspool” sparked a massive cleanup of what’s billed as one of the world’s loveliest island, the Philippines’ image as the hub of tourist havens has been marred by one other issue: the Third World state of medical facilities and services in many such vaunted “paradises.”

Ironically, the government spends millions in infrastructure upgrading to boost the tourist draw of such places, but from the latest incident in surfing paradise Siargao, the matter of ensuring that at least the most basic first aid facilities and services are available has apparently been forgotten.

Broadcast journalist Karen Davila had complained, in a Facebook post about her family’s traumatic experience on Siargao island, about the woeful lack of facilities and people to attend to the emergency they found themselves in when her eldest son David had a surfing accident.

The trainer who was with David suddenly “disappeared” after showing Karen’s husband, DJ Sta. Ana, the store where he could buy betadine, cotton and plaster. “My husband said after showing him the sari sari store where to buy the Betadine, cotton and gauze, he left them. No one was there to assist my husband or my son who was bleeding! No nurse, no first aid, NO ONE.”

The resort owners brought them to the nearest hospital about 45 minutes away. The doctor and nurse on duty were helpful, but the hospital had no tetanus vaccine – a must for wounds in such accidents. The resort owners asked the trainer of Karen’s younger son Lucas to use his motorbike to buy the vaccine, antibiotics and painkillers prescribed by the doctor.

The reason given by the mayor about the lack of medical facilities and equipment – that they are a 5th-class municipality and lacked doctors and was not ready for the surge of tourists – also stunned her, the broadcaster said.

Siargao has been “marketed” for years as one of the best surfing destinations in the world, and was allocated over a billion pesos for infrastructure improvement in order to boost tourism.

“Wasn’t a multi million sports complex built?! All this infra and Siargao can’t afford to professionalize its trainers, put full time first aid clinic and life guard for tourists to support the VERY industry that put it’s name on the map?” Karen wondered aloud.

SPEAKER ALVAREZ REACTS

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a Mindanaoan, expressed concern over the family’s ordeal and vowed to use Congress to ensure the timely release of necessary budgets.

“But let me assure her and her family that the government is already addressing the lack of infrastructure in tourist destinations. In the case of Siargao, Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas, Congressman Francisco Jose Matugas and I are already taking steps to address the infrastructure problems she cited, such as the lack of first aid and medical facilities to deal with emergencies and health issues faced by locals and visitors.

“I will make sure that the budget is released for these projects,” the Speaker said.

Alvarez also put part of the burden on local government units in popular tourist sites, saying they “should ensure that tourist facilities in their respective areas are properly maintained. Beach resorts should always have lifeguards on duty and surfing and diving instructors should have proper training and possess the requisite certification. LGUs in coordination with the Department of Tourism should conduct regular inspections of the facilities of tourist destinations to ensure public safety at all times.”

Finally, he said in a statement on Black Saturday, “tourist destinations should have adequate first aid facilities and personnel for medical emergencies. Ambulances should be on standby at all times.”

Areas should have adequate lighting at night, Alvarez added. “Otherwise, there should be no nighttime surfing to prevent any untoward incident.”

The pitiful state of medical facilities and services to handle tourist emergencies was also highlighted a few years ago when a Fil-American nurse on vacation in picturesque Coron island in Palawan died after suddenly falling ill while snorkeling with friends. He vomited, had tremors and collapsed, but when brought to the nearest facility, no one had the medical skills to attend to the tourist, who, it turned out, had anaphylactic shock or an allergic reaction from having stepped on a stone fish.

The nurse’s death raised the issue of why Coron, billed as a tourist paradise, barely had the medical equipment or expertise for emergencies.