Protect VIP, a group that advocates the protection of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), reiterated its call to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to address the deteriorating water quality in the region the same way it intends to address environmental issues in other tourism areas.
Protect VIP issued the statement following a strategizing meeting held by the DENR and other concerned government agencies that focused on the El Nido and Coron in Palawan, Panglao in Bohol, Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, and Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, which the DENR refer to as the 5 Green Economy Model (5 GEM).
The meeting, which included the DENR, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Tourism (DOT), tackled environmental concerns on tourist spots including water quality.
Protect VIP, however, lamented that the agency has yet to respond to urgent water quality issues in the VIP, citing a complaint it filed against the DENR last December, for the non-issuance of Guidelines for Declaration of Non-Attainment Area in the VIP after failed water quality tests. Non-attainment areas are areas where specific pollutants have already exceeded the standards, in the case of the VIP, water pollutants.
“We urge the DENR to prove their sincerity and commitment to protecting the VIP among the vital marine resources and tourist destinations of the country. As DENR and Cabinet members address environmental issues for our country’s tourism sector, we urge DENR not to turn a blind eye to the pressing environmental issues on the VIP. Its waters are still reeling from the effects of the Mindoro oil spill and the booming fossil gas industry in Batangas, as reflected by the failed water quality tests CEED [Center for Energy, Ecology and Development] and the dwindling fish catch of fisherfolk. With their initiatives to better the water resources in the country, we hope that DENR would not leave the VIP behind,” Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP said.
The provinces surrounding the VIP, which scientists declared as the center of the center of shore fish biodiversity, benefit largely from the tourism industry with Batangas alone recording over 2.3 million tourists in 2022 and is the 5th most visited place in the country for 2019, according to the Department of Tourism.
Ivan Andres, CEED deputy head for Research and Policy of Center, raised alarm on the environmental impacts of the declining water quality in the VIP and its potential effects on the tourism sector.
“The VIP, being the center of the center of global marine fish shore biodiversity, constitutes a significant asset to our tourism sector. Batangas, a part of the VIP, is considered to be the top diving site in the country. However, last July and September, CEED conducted water quality tests that revealed that Marine Protected Areas [MPAs]in Pola and Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro, as well as in Ilijan, Batangas exceeded DENR’s standards for oil and grease. This is alarming since declining water quality can affect the tourism industry. The declining water quality can bring irreversible damage to the marine ecosystem in the VIP if not addressed immediately,” said Andres.
Last February 28, 2023, an oil tanker carrying 900,000 liters of industrial oil sank along the coasts of VIP causing a massive oil spill, affecting over 200,000 individuals and four regions in the country, including Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Palawan, and Antique. As this tragedy approaches its first year, Gariguez challenged the DENR to conduct proper assessment and rehabilitation for its affected waters.
“The oil spill that devastated Oriental Mindoro is nearing its first year. This should have already been a catalyst for the DENR to assess the water quality of VIP and to plan for its recovery moving forward to ensure healthy coastal waters for the fisherfolk communities. If the DENR is sincere in its aim to improve the country’s tourism by addressing environmental issues, the water quality of crucial marine ecosystems such as the VIP should be top priority,” said Gariguez.