GUIMARAS – A little past noon of 03 August 2019, Saturday, the biggest sea mishap in this island’s history came about off Iloilo Strait that claimed the lives of 31 people, which included students, teachers, and tourists. They were onboard three passenger pump boats travelling from the Parola Wharf in Iloilo City to the towns of Jordan and Buenavista in Guimaras.
Local accounts described the sea waters that day as calm coupled with fine weather, until suddenly, the clouds turned gray and strong gusts of wind battered and capsized the vessels. This tragedy still haunts local folks today as they talk about it in random daily conversations, still gripped in fear and grief.
The tragic incident raised serious concerns on the safety of wooden-hulled pump boats as the means of transportation going to and from Guimaras and Iloilo. More importantly, it prompted operators to comply with the prior circular issued by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) for the phase-out of wooden-hulled vessels, and to shift to steel or fiberglass-hulled ferry boats with modern and improved designs and materials.
This drove the Guimaras Island Transport Multipurpose Cooperative (GITMPC), formerly Jordan Motor Banca Cooperative (JMBC), to tap the assistance of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) for the acquisition of four brand new fiberglass passenger boats that can accommodate about 60 to 80 passengers per trip.
Apart from keeping maritime transport safe, the LANDBANK-financed vessels have helped to provide a sustainable source of income to over 50 members of the co-op who were previously operating pump boats.
“We have so many plans and opportunities to expand the operations of the cooperative, including venturing into the tourism industry, but we lack working capital. That’s why we really appreciate the financial assistance that LANDBANK has been extending to us. We thank them for helping us shoulder our funding needs,” said GITMPC Chair Paglaum S. Villanueva.
Due to the mobility restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the co-op’s P20-million loan from LANDBANK in 2020 yielded results only in January 2021 when the ferry boats commenced operations to service an average of 8,000 passengers daily.
Safer and more comfortable maritime transport
Wendys Marie Erpelua, a public school teacher from Guimaras, is one of the frequent travelers of the Guimaras-Iloilo route. Her co-teacher was among the victims of the tragic sea mishap in 2019.
Before GITMPC operated the modern ferry boats, Wendys regularly braved the sea via wooden-hulled pump boats to reach the town of Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo where she teaches. Together with other passengers and bulky cargos, she needed to fit her body in the narrow space of the boat, with limited ventilation and a roof made of tarpaulin for sunlight and rain protection.
Today, her day-to-day travel is more convenient with spacious seats, wide windows, and modern facilities. She feels more comfortable and safer when traveling from Guimaras to Iloilo and back, from Mondays to Fridays, to fulfill her chosen profession.
“Before, nahihirapan ako sa biyahe kasi siksikan at mahirap huminga dahil sa trapal. Ngayon, hindi mo mafi-feel ‘yung pagod kasi maluwag na, merong bintana at malinis. Siguro kung ano ‘yung comfort na nafi-feel ko, ganon din ‘yung nararamdaman ng ibang mga pasahero,” said Wendys.
On top of providing a safe and comfortable ride to passengers, the operations of GITMPC has been helping the province to revive its tourism industry, which was weighed down by the sea tragedy and the pandemic.
The co-op’s new fleet has also made mobility and movement of goods for small-scale enterprises in Guimaras easier, for improved income which contributes to the local economy.
LANDBANK has always considered cooperatives as valuable partners in nation- building, in line with the Bank’s expanded mandate of providing responsive services beyond banking to all clients, publics, and stakeholders.
As of 31 January 2023, LANDBANK’s outstanding loans to the cooperative sector have reached P66.6 billion, benefiting over 1,360 co-ops nationwide.