DENR crafting new policies for sustainable ecotourism

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said over the weekend that the department’s regional offices are now identifying tourism areas, notably beaches, to develop policies that will ensure sustainable ecotourism.

“The secretary [Roy A. Cimatu] has ordered the [DENR’s] regional offices to conduct an assessment of tourist destinations to determine the carrying capacity and put in place measures that will protect forest and coastal resources from unbridled development and destructive human activities,” designated DENR Spokesman Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones told the BusinessMirror.

He added the “carrying capacity” of the tourist area will be established to identify critical habitats, limit development projects, as well as determine the appropriate tourism activity and the maximum number of tourists to be allowed.

This is what the DENR is currently working on in the pollution-challenged Boracay Island, the country’s top tourist destination in Malay, Aklan, Leones said.

The campaigns in other tourist areas, such as Panglao in Bohol, El Nido in Palawan and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro are ongoing to prevent a repeat of what happened in Boracay.

The island paradise will soon be closed to tourism activities for six months starting on April 26.

“In Boracay after rehabilitation, tourism activities will be limited according to the island’s carrying capacity. This includes construction, use of water, garbage production,” Leones stated.

Evictions in Puerto Galera 

The DENR Southwestern Tagalog region or Mimaropa region, meanwhile, has issued notices to vacate to 14 establishments in Puerto Galera for violating the 25+5 easement rule.

These establishments are found in Sabang and White Beach, two popular beaches in Puerto Galera.

DENR Mimaropa Assistant Regional Director and Task Force Galera Chairman Dr. Vicente Tuddao  Jr. was in Puerto Galera last Friday to personally serve the notices to Tina’s Sunset Cottages, Restaurant & Dive Center, Ocean Dream Lodge, Paradise Dive Zone Resort Corp., Pink & Black Lodging House, Montani Beach Resort, Sabang Inn, Sabang Divers, Mangosteen Restaurant, Dive Dojo, Mermaid Resort Charletan Inc., Modem Development Co. Inc., Capt. Gregg, Eddie’s Place Bar & Restaurant, Marginor Dine & Snack  and I Dive at Casa Mia. Except for Marginor Diner & Snack and I Dive at Casa Mia, which are all in Barangay San Isidro.  The rest are in Barangay Sabang.

The establishments were given 30 days to comply.

“We hope they will be responsible enough to remove the structures they have built on easement zones within that period. The sooner we can start the rehabilitation of Sabang and White Beach, the better,” Tuddao said.

Apart from clearing up the 3-meter easement zone, Task Force Galera also inspected establishments for compliance with environmental regulations, such as securing discharge permit, environmental compliance certificate, permit to operate, hazardous waste registration, compliance to solid-waste segregation and having a pollution control officer.

The absence of proper wastewater-disposal facility, aggravated by overcrowding of structures along the beaches, is seen as a major source of coliform contamination of Sabang and White Beach, according to a news statement from the DENR Mimaropa region.

Water quality tests in five sampling stations in Puerto Galera from 2009 to 2017 show high fecal coliform levels.

DENR Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino said notices of violations shall also be served in the coming days to establishments found violating environmental rules.

“Who would want to visit Puerto Galera in the future if its beaches have become too dirty and hazardous to swim in?” Bernardino said.

She underscored the rehabilitation of Puerto Galera not only for tourism but also for scientific research.

In 1977 Puerto Galera was declared Man and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), an international recognition that it is a model of sustainable development which provides “living observatories.”

In 2014, however, the Unesco almost stripped Puerto Galera of this recognition after it concluded that the town did not meet the criteria. It was only in July 2017 that the status was affirmed after the local government submitted an Integrated Management Plan.

El Nido eviction

Meanwhile, Bernardino welcomed the issues raised by several members of the Provincial Board of Palawan in connection with the crackdown in El Nido, Palawan.

She said the DENR Mimaropa region is ready to answer the issues raised by Palawan Board Members David Francis, Ponce de Leon and Winston Arzaga on the cleanup of Bacuit Bay, where several structures are facing demolition.

The campaign, Bernardino added, is part of the Duterte administration’s thrust and the DENR is merely “observing what is in the law in pursuing a cleanup of El Nido and other beach destinations in the region.”

Some of those who received eviction notice in El Nido should be able to show proof that their stay in forestlands has legal basis.

She said that as part of the campaign, even public structures, such as the El Nido National High School, was issued a notice to vacate.

“Of course we are aware that the school provides a public good, that is why we will recommend that it secure a presidential proclamation to declare the area it occupies a civil reservation,” Bernardino said.

“…We have to serve it a notice to vacate because it is built on timberland without any tenurial instrument,” she added.

The official also agreed that the map used by the DENR as basis to issue the notices is “old, classifying Corong-Corong as forest land,” but Task Force El Nido Chairman Manuel Escasura said, “the Land Classification Map of 1941 for Corong-Corong remains valid because there have been no congressional legislation that reclassifies the area. We have no choice but to follow the existing map.”

The DENR, likewise, does not discount the possibility that some of the agency’s personnel may have been involved in illegal titling of El Nido’s timberland, which also contributed to the congestion of structures in the area.

On that account, Bernardino said there will be a thorough investigation to identify DENR personnel accountable, but will also go after those who had caused environmental degradation.

“We will hold everyone accountable for the destruction of such a beautiful place that is El Nido,” he said.

Following President Duterte and Cimatu’s priority thrusts to rehabilitate the country’s prime beach destinations, DENR Mimaropa has created three task forces tasked to lead in the cleanup of Bacuit Bay in El Nido, Sabang and White Beach in Puerto Galera and Coron Bay.

“We hope that other public officials in Palawan can support us in this endeavor,” Bernardino said, expressing gratitude to Palawan Gov.  Jose Alvarez, who had earlier vowed to support for the DENR’s efforts in El Nido.

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Turning Points 2018