DENR order on STP constructions in Boracay contradicts national, local laws

THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) may be contravening national and local laws in requiring establishments on Boracay Island’s main beachfront to build their own sewage treatment plants (STP).

In a letter dated June 29, 2018, a copy of which was obtained by the BusinessMirror, the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI) appealed to DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu to “reconsider” his recent order for all resorts, hotels, and other similar establishments on the island’s main beachfront to build their own STPs or clustered STPs, depending on the establishment’s number of rooms. Cimatu’s order was issued through Memorandum Circular No. 2018-06 dated June 26, 2018.

“We feel that the DENR should simply implement the existing laws and compel all water utilities operating and supplying water in Boracay, to be the one responsible to treat its own wastewater through setting up their own sewer network and sewage treatment plant. All water providers have the obligation to treat the water they provide, and not to transfer this responsibility to the water consumers. Requiring all establishments to build their own STPs and treat water at source, when there is a properly functioning centralized sewer network is in contradiction to existing laws,” said the BFI.

The island stakeholders also warned that having establishments construct their own STPs will be an additional burden to DENR, which has to monitor their compliance. “It is definitely a bigger environmental risk to allow hundreds of establishments to operate modular STPs and release effluents straight to the sea. The DENR will therefore have the extremely tedious task of permanently assigning hundreds of staff on the island just to monitor hundreds of STPs 24/7. Random water testing at wider time intervals is not an option especially for Boracay where thousands of tourists swim each day,” the BFI added.

The Boracay group pointed to the provision in the Philippine Clean Water Act (Republic Act 9275), which states that the “agency vested to provide water supply and sewerage facilities and/or concessionaires in Metro Manila and highly urbanized cities as defined in Republic Act 7160, in coordination with LGUs (local government units), shall be required to connect the existing sewage line found in all subdivisions, condominiums, commercial centers, hotels, sports and recreational facilities, hospitals, market places, public buildings, industrial complex and other similar establishments including households to available sewerage system.”

In Boracay, the main water supply and sewerage system is operated by the Ayala-led Boracay Island Water Co. (BIWC). The company is 20-percent owned by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), a unit of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Another water supplier, Boracay Tubi Services Inc. (BTSI), owned by MacroAsia Properties Development Corp. of tycoon Lucio Tan, is now offering consultancy services and the construction of STPs. In its letter to its “business partners” on June 25, 2018, BTSI said it has already “committed to put up 100 STPs and 5 clustered STPs within the next four months.”

Before issuing its memorandum circular on the construction of STPs, however, the DENR decommissioned a sewer line at the main beachfront owned by Tieza, which the former claimed was illegal for violating easement regulations. (See, “DENR shuts off illegal sewage pipes on Boracay beach, imposes STP compliance to curb pollution,” in the BusinessMirror, June 25, 2018.) Said pipeline had been constructed by the Philippine Tourism Authority, the forerunner of Tieza, with the approval of DENR and the LGU.

In its letter, BFI also cited the Provincial Water Utilities Act (Presidential Decree 198), President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 53 creating the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, and Malay Municipal Ordinance 307, as laws mandating government to ensure that residences and commercial establishments are connected to existing sewerage systems.

The BFI suggested to the DENR that all consumers already connected to the existing centralized sewer network be required to have a pre-treatment facility (presented by Boracay Water) to improve the quality of the water that is conveyed through the sewer lines before it is treated at the centralized STPs.

It also recommended that modular STPs “be required ONLY for future development of 50 rooms and above and for those who have no access to the existing sewer network.”

In its memorandum circular, DENR is requiring “all hotels, resorts, and similar establishments in the White/Long Beach Area in Boracay (Station 1 to 3) with 50  rooms and above to have its own STP, those with 49 rooms and below to have a clustered STP or they may opt/elect to have its own separate treatment and those hotels, resorts and similar establishments in other areas of Boracay with 50 rooms and above to have a separate STP.”

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