DOT, DILG blindsided by DENR’s cancellation of ECCs in Boracay

OFFICIALS from the Departments of Interior and Local Government (DOT) and of Tourism (DOT) are expected to question the sudden cancellation by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) of business permits and environmental clearance certificates (ECCs) of Boracay establishments at the inter-agency Task Force Boracay meeting on Friday (July 27).

This developed as DOT and DILG officials intimated that they were blindsided by the move, which was announced in a meeting with Boracay stakeholders last July 19, and through DENR Memorandum Circular No. 2018-03 dated July 18, 2018 signed by Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.

While the cancellation may have been necessary, Sen. Nancy Binay said in a news statement that government “must make sure that re-applications will have guidelines that are clear, simple, practical and the procedures are efficient, transparent and corruption-free.” Binay, chairman of the Senate Committee on Tourism, also suggested that national and local governments shoulder the fees and other payments needed for applying permits.

But tourism leaders and industry stakeholders on the island see the DENR move as another monkey wrench thrown in the planned reopening of Boracay Island on Oct. 26.

“We hope to clarify all these issues in the next meeting (July 27),” said DOT Spokesman and Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planning Benito C. Bengzon Jr. “We were not invited to that [July 19] meeting,” where the ECC cancellation was announced, he added. A separate DOT source confirmed to the BusinessMirror that agency officials were not informed by DENR “prior to this decision.”

DILG Undersecretary for Operations Epimaco V. Densing III admitted their agency was “blinded at the moment as to what they’re [DENR] doing,” when asked if he still thought the island would reopen on October 26. “I’m only relying on the pronouncements of Secretary Cimatu,” adding that “we were not consulted,” before DENR decided to cancel ECCs. But he said, “I believe Secretary Cimatu only cancelled ECCs, although it has an effect on the [business] permits. We will know the details during the task force meeting this Friday.”

Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III expressed fears, however, that DENR’s move may prevent Boracay from reopening as scheduled. “Cancelling their business permits and ECCs makes all Boracay establishments, technically, violators,” he said. “So how are we supposed to sell rooms, which Secretary Cimatu said we could already do,” he asked.

Clemente added, “The cancellation of the ECCs and business permits of all stakeholders on the island is a needless imposition. The burden must be thrown back at the government agencies, which issue those documents in the first place. If the resorts were issued ECCs and business permits, then the DENR and the DILG must have found them compliant. Why have them redo something that they’ve already done anyway?”

Christine Ibarreta, president of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International Inc., suggested that DENR “deal with the noncompliant establishments; go after them. But support those hotels and resorts which had been abiding with government rules.”

She confirmed that many of HSMA’s members are already promoting and selling their respective hotel and resort rooms in Boracay, in preparation for the island’s announced reopening.

Cimatu ordered the suspension of all ECCs in Boracay as “it is incumbent upon the DENR to re-evaluate compliance with all environmental laws of all establishments in the area in relation to the island’s carrying capacity,” according to DENR MC 2018-03.

The DENR was supposed to release its assessment on the carrying capacity of Boracay last May, but Densing told a recent Senate Committee on Tourism hearing the agency had asked for more time to complete it. (See, “To open or not to open Boracay Island, that is the question for Binay,” in the BusinessMirror, July 17, 2018.)

DILG had been leading a house-to-house inspection of establishments on Boracay to check if the latter have the necessary permits to operate  such as an ECC, business permit, fire inspection permit, sewer-line connection certificate, among others. The inspection teams are also composed of other task force member-agencies as well as representatives from the Bureau of Fire Protection and Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Densing said, as of July 25, the teams have already inspected 2,325 establishments in Boracay, and found only 272 who were fully compliant, with respect to permits, licenses, and clearances. “For hotels, resorts, inns – 35 uninspected (closed); 37 compliant; 175 with deficiencies,” he noted.

According to Binay, she understands the necessity to rescind all permits of businesses operating in the island to give government and the people a “fresh start”, but re-applying may be too cumbersome and the compliance could be prone to corruption.

“What we want are clear guidelines which would not take advantage of applicants. There should be only one unified checklist for compliance so it won’t be chaotic. It should be clear and simple to understand, reasonable and practical to comply with. The process of compliance must be efficient, transparent and free from any opportunity to elicit favors from the applicant,” she averred. “‘Wag naman sanang gamitin ang pag-apply ng panibagong permit bilang fund-raising activity,” Binay cautioned.

“It is also fitting for government to extend them [stakeholders] the courtesy to re-apply and waive the fees except for payment of taxes,” she stressed.

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