Panglao mayor gets side of vendor behind overpriced meal, says Virgin Island only open for sightseeing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 4) — Tourism activities in Virgin Island, Bohol have been limited to sightseeing following the sale of alleged overpriced seafood in the area that recently went viral.

Panglao Mayor Boy Arcay told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday that the area had been closed down to food vendors after a viral social media post showed a group of tourists' food bill amounting to around ₱26,000. It is not yet clear when the ban on food sales will be lifted.

"Pagkatapos ko madiskubre 'yung mga presyo, nagmeeting kami sa tourism council at nagdesisyon kaming temporary na i-close muna, walang magtitinda pero ang isla ng Virgin Island is open for sightseeing activities, iyon lang," Arcay said.

[Translation: After I discovered the food prices in the area, I met with the tourism council and we came up with the decision to close the area, vendors will not be allowed but Virgin Island is still open for sightseeing activities.]

Bohol Governor Aris Aumentado also posted on Facebook a photo of the island without any structures and surrounding motorbancas. He announced on Tuesday that he had ordered the temporary suspension of trips to the area following the incident.

RELATED: Bohol gov suspends trips to Virgin Island amid ‘overpriced’ sale of seafood  

Arcay recently visited the area and agrees that he also found the seafood meals generally being offered "a bit overpriced", but upon getting the side of the vendor behind the food bill, he learned that the group who supposedly ordered was comprised of around 20 people, including their boatman.

"Kaso yung pagkain daw, saka na pinicture-an pagkatapos nang kumain. Before muna sila kumain sabi ng may-ari, sana pinicture-an nila kung reasonable yung kinain nila o hindi, kaya parang nalungkot rin yung may-ari ng tindahan, bakit pinicture-an nila, tapos na, mga buto-buto na lang ang naiwan," he said.

[Translation: The owner hoped that instead of taking the picture after finishing the meal, the group should have taken it before eating instead so people can see whether the meal was reasonable or not, that's why the owner was also saddened because the photo that was posted just showed the leftovers.]

The food bill indicated that abalone costs ₱2,500, scallops and oyster were priced at ₱3,000, and bananas at around ₱900, among other food items. The netizen who posted the photo noted, however, that the food was only intended for 13 people.

"'Yung isa pang information na nakuha ko, ang may-ari magbibigay pa sila ng komisyon doon sa boatman," Arcay added.

[Translation: Based on the information that I gathered, the owner also thought of giving commission to the boatman.]

He said according to the owner, they sourced the food all the way from the municipality of Ubay, which was around 120 kilometers away from Panglao. The mayor said he understands that they also had to spend for fuel.

"Naiintindihan ko sila pero meron ding kaunting kataasan ang paninda nila (I understand them but what they were selling was also a bit overpriced)," he said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, law expert Al Agra said solving the overpricing issue, or any other issue in island resorts, may involve several government authorities. For this case, the local government has the say in terms of consumer protection, he said.

The Department of Tourism is another agency that may get involved if the food vendor was accredited by the agency, Agra said.

If proven, the expert said some of the penalties that the food vendor may face is a revoked permit and closure of his business.

The incident also calls for the setting of standards in island resorts by the DOT to be implemented by the local government, given the major role that tourism may play during current times, Agra noted. Coordination with other national and local officials, coupled with consultations with local businesses is vital during this process, he added.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco previously said her office is coordinating with the Department of Trade and Industry to set reasonable price standards on tourist goods and services in response to the incident.

Arcay said in his Facebook post that the local government is considering putting up a street food or nightmarket as an alternative area of business for the displaced vendors.