By Jinky Jorgio
Tacloban, Leyte—Siargao is the surfing capital of the Philippines. Bohol, home to the world’s tiniest primate known as "tarsier," is also a favorite destination. So is Cebu, which is famous for its white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water.
After almost two years in Covid-19 lockdown, these destinations reopened their doors to local tourists. Cooped up in their homes, Filipino tourists geared up and headed for sun-and-sand excursions.
Coreen Bernabe, who last visited Siargao before the pandemic, packed her bags as soon as the lockdown was lifted, booked her ticket and hit the surfing spots along with her friends.
But their dream holiday turned into a nightmare when typhoon Rai made landfall in Siargao Island on Dec. 15.
Typhoon Rai, the strongest to hit the Philippines this year, left more than 300 dead, hundreds missing, and thousands homeless. But the full scale of destruction and total cost of damage has yet to be determined.
In the past two months, businesses in the province became alive again. Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Petilla shared the excitement of residents and tourists.
Reports from the tourism office noted that prior to the pandemic, Siargao received 200,000 visitors a year—40 percent of whom were foreigners and the rest are locals from nearby provinces.
Other tourism-dependent provinces such as Cebu, Bohol, Boracay and Palawan have also suffered losses during the pandemic-triggered pause. They welcomed the reopening of tourism, offering giveaways and promo deals to visitors such as discounted rates on services to fully vaccinated tourists.
The destructive typhoon, however, pulled back these provinces' initial recovery.
At 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 15, typhoon Rai swept through Siargao Island, with wind strength at 150-200kph.
Around 30 foreigners and 50 local tourists were moved to higher grounds. After hours of battering the island with rains and strong winds, hundreds of homes and resort facilities were destroyed, streets were flooded, power and internet connections went out.
From Siargao, typhoon Rai also wreaked havoc in Cebu, Bohol and Palawan.
In Siargao alone, Gov. Francisco Matugaone estimated his province’s losses at 20 billion pesos ($400 million).
Cebu, Bohol, Dinagat Island, Palawan and neighboring provinces have been declared in a state of calamity.
Power and communications systems remain down. Typhoon survivors in disaster areas are scrounging for decent meals to eat and have no water to drink.