NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Cadiz City Mayor Salvador Escalante Jr. asked the local Coast Guard and Bantay Dagat on Monday, August 29, to tighten their watch against unauthorized travel to Kabilangbilangan Reef after two teenagers and two adults died of drowning on August 28.
Only fisherfolk and the local Bantay Dagat are allowed in Kabilangbilangan Reef, 30 minutes from the mainland, until the city and province approve new safety guidelines modeled on the management of Manjuyod Sandbar in Negros Oriental, the mayor said.
The victims were part of a group of 16 local tourists, mostly employees of a lending firm, on an excursion to the 3,000-square meter reef, which has a sandbar that vanishes during high tide.
A pumpboat took the group to the reef around 8 a.m. They were supposed to leave before 3 pm, but were trapped by swirling currents around 1 p.m.
A 15-year-old boy was the first to be swept away. His mother, who tried to rescue him, was also carried off by waves.
Two other would-be rescuers, another male teenager and their companion Remymar Ocon, 31, also drowned, according to Commander Joe Luviz Mercurio, Philippine Coast Guard-Northern Negros Occidental station chief.
They were pronounced dead at the Cadiz Emergency Hospital. Seven others, including those who had towed their bodies back to a 4.6-meter watch tower, were kept overnight for observation.
Kabilangbilangan Reef is not registered as a restricted area. But Cadiz City Coast Guard Commander Chief Petty Officer Joel Taganile said the dangerous currents and strong waves around the reef, especially during the period between tides, prompted authorities years back to limit visits to fisherfolk and the Bantay Dagat.
Mercurio also said boats are not allowed to ferry passengers to the site, which faces the open sea. But that has not stopped visits from tourists, as seen in various travel blogs.
Escalante said previous drowning incidents have been recorded in the area, which is between Barangays Daga and Sicaba, southeast of Sicaba Reefs and northeast of Talabaan Grande River.
The mayor said the city needs to lay out safety guidelines based on the management of the famous Manjuyod sandbar in Negros Oriental, including the regulation of activities, the set-up of safety facilities, and the deployment of Philippine Coast Guard and Bantay Dagat personnel.
“We have budget limitations but it’s already in the pipeline,” he added.
Mercurio said the Coast Guard is tracing the operator and owner of the boat, to check if they have documents from the Maritime Industry Authority authorizing the transport of passengers. – Rappler.com