Elmar is a habal-habal (motorcycle for rent) driver, making 100 to 150 pesos a day ($2-3) transporting teachers and children to and from the local high school. He charges 10 to 15 pesos per ride (¢20-30). During the onslaught of the typhoon, he stayed behind to guard their home while his family evacuated to a local school shelter. He prepared for Yolanda like he always did during typhoons, but like many Filipinos, Elmar didn’t think a supertyphoon would be far from a typical storm for a tropical archipelago on the Pacific.
“Buti nalang may malaking molave. Doon po talaga ako humawak,” said Elmar. Luckily, there was a big Molave tree. That is where I really held on.
All households on the island were destroyed between 10AM and 2PM of Friday, 8 November 2015.
The Local Governance Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED), a program of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) supported by the Government of Canada started working in Northern Iloilo in 2013, just before Yolanda hit. The program aims to reduce poverty in priority sites across the Philippines where tourism posted great potential in providing jobs for local communities.
In response to the disaster in Northern Iloilo, the local project was quick to adjust its strategy towards rebuilding economic opportunities.
Elmar was one of the first to be part of the local project’s skills trainings. The local team through the Northern Iloilo Alliance for Coastal Development (NIACDEV) and the Local Economic and Investment Promotion Office (LEIPO) of the Province identified the kind knowledge and skills they can impart to the local community based on Northern Iloilo’s resources, since this area is coastal.
“Kami po yung kasali sa unang batch ng Tour Guiding training.” We were the first batch who took the tour guiding training.
Elmar recalls his first tour guiding training with enthusiasm citing concepts he learned on safety, rescue, and environmental protection as well as the cultural and natural history behind each attraction site in the island. “Hindi ko po talaga makakalimutan ‘yong Mock Tour. Nilibot namin ang buong isla at nag ensayo ng spiel.” I will never forget the Mock Tour at the end of the training. We went around the island and practiced our spiels.
However, he did not get to practice his new tour guiding skills right away because of Yolanda. Isla Gigantes was so far away; help took a week to get there. He built his home back up slowly with rummaged materials and shared food available with neighbors. When NGOs arrived, they distributed food and basic clothing. Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team were one of the first responders in Northern Iloilo, providing shelters, relief goods, medical care, and clean water to the communities.
“March na po ulit nagkaroon ng bisita dito,” said Elmar. It was around March 2014 when the first tourists came again. “Pero kung wala pong turismo, sigurado, hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin kami nakakabangon.” But without tourism, for sure, we would not be able to recover.
There was a sudden boom in tourism in Isla Gigantes post-Yolanda. Communities and the local government credit this to publicity brought about by first responders and humanitarian workers through social media and word-of-mouth.
For every tour, Elmar gets a guaranteed 500 pesos (10 dollars) income, before tips. “Lagi na pong may turista dito.” There are always tourists here. He handles about three to five tours a week. In fact, driving now is no longer Elmar’s primary livelihood. Rather, it’s his alternative income-generating side job when there are no tours for certain hours of the day.
Currently, Elmar makes sure to attend new, enhancing tour guiding trainings. He hopes tour guides in his community would organize to properly price their rates, share customers, and safeguard the tourists and environment.
The Province of Iloilo continues its work with the private sector (organized MSMEs, workers, and other local stakeholders) such as the NIACDEV in pursuing local economic development in the area by making sure its potential in tourism is translated to more or better jobs for local residents.
While the DILG and the local government ensures they have the right policies and systems to make doing business and livelihood in Northern Iloilo is easy, the province’s LEIPO is aggressive in promoting more investments in the area. Canada expects that through the worker trainings and business-friendly policies, Iloilo will have more competitive tourism services and facilities like accommodation, transport, etc. so that it can attract growth to go local.
Canada and DILG through LGSP-LED is currently piloting the same approach to inclusive growth in 8 other tourism development areas in the Philippines.#