THE Inter-Agency Task Force on island destinations has ordered the local governments of El Nido and Panglao Island to implement a no-swimming policy in two beach areas.
This was disclosed by Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, who arrived Wednesday evening from an inspection trip of the two tourist towns, with Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu and Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año. “We are not closing El Nido and Panglao, however, there should be no swimming in some beaches in El Nido and Panglao,” she said.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been conducting monthly tests in the beach areas of the two tourist destinations and have determined Tawala 1 in Panglao and Buena Suerte in El Nido with “coliform levels exceeding the standard level.” As of October 2018, the fecal coliform count in Tawala 1 is 16,000 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliter (ml.), while Buena Suerte has a fecal coliform level of 1,300 MPN/100 ml as of November 2018, according to data from the DENR. The acceptable standard coliform level is only 1,000 MPN/100 ml.
In March, however, eight of the 10 beaches in Panglao Island had extremely high levels of fecal coliform contamination, some reaching peaks of 240,000 MPN/100 ml, which Romulo Puyat said could be due to the vacation season. Since the monsoon season though, the levels have dropped to more acceptable levels.
Three barangays in El Nido – Maligaya, Buena Suerte, and Lugadya – likewise registered fecal coliform levels at 16,000 MPN/100 ml in July, so the task force has asked the DENR to revalidate the November data. “We were told the recent typhoon may have caused the coliform to dissipate, thus the lower numbers in November,” explained the DOT secretary.
Romulo Puyat explained that most of the coliform contamination of said beaches was determined to have come from the boats, which do island hopping tours as these don’t have sanitary toilet facilities. Also, there are no sewerage facilities in both towns, although the El Nido LGU has said it would already work on installing a sewerage system for the main town.
The DOT chief, however, expressed frustration that the mayors of El Nido and Panglao seem to be very stubborn in enforcing even their own easement ordinances.
“As soon as we left El Nido [Wednesday afternoon], the boats were back, anchored near the beachfront, while tables and chairs were back within the easement zone,” she said. Romulo Puyat said she had instructed her staff to stay behind to monitor the town, and they sent her photos of the violations, copies of which were shared with the BusinessMirror. She said El Nido Mayor Nieves Cabunalda-Rosento had earlier agreed to anchor the boats in a spot away from the main beachfront.
She noted that the municipality passed an ordinance converting the town into a highly urbanized city, thus supposedly making them entitled to a 3-meter no-build easement zone along the beachfront. “But based on our measurements, and if you look at the photos taken by my staff, they can’t even follow the 3 meters. They go over it.”
IN the case of Panglao, she said she walked along Alona Beach on Tuesday evening and saw massage beds on the beachfront. “The municipality has a “plus 10-meters” easement ordinance. So if you add that to the current 20-meter easement under the law, they should keep 30 meters of Alona Beach free of any structures,” Romulo Puyat stressed.
She outed Panglao Mayor Leonila Paredes-Montero, who owns Alona Beach Resort, as among the easement violators. “I don’t understand why they can’t just follow the law. Why do they create these ordinances if they won’t implement them anyway?” asked the DOT chief in exasperation.
The task force, originally set up to tackle the rehabilitation of Boracay Island, will be reconstituted into a body to oversee other islands and critical tourism destinations. President Duterte will issue an executive order soon for this purpose, according to Romulo Puyat.
Because El Nido and Panglao have smaller beach areas, she said the task force didn’t see the need to close these down, like Boracay. “The task force is giving the LGUs the opportunity to immediately address their shortcomings in the environment, easement and governance aspects,” she explained. She acknowledged that the El Nido government has started building its own central sewerage system, which will take six months to finish, and have limited the number of visitors to the Big and Small Lagoons.
“But we also want them to address the easement violations. They should also prohibit cooking on the boats [that bring tourists around the lagoons and islands]. These boats should also be outfitted with sanitary toilet facilities that don’t dump human waste into the waters,” she insisted.
Romulo Puyat sought the help of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines to enjoin its members in both El Nido and Panglao to put pressure on their respective LGUs to enforce the easement and environmental laws.