Erring Palawan resorts face closure – DOT chief

DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat cited the case of El Nido in Palawan, where the national government will shut down individual beaches or resorts that fail to comply by the end of the six-month deadline on May 30.

NADI – Bullheaded or “pasaway” local government officials are blocking efforts of the Duterte administration to clean up top beach destinations, so the national government is considering taking over these sites as it did in Boracay, according to the head of the Department of Tourism.

DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat cited the case of El Nido in Palawan, where the national government will shut down individual beaches or resorts that fail to comply by the end of the six-month deadline on May 30.

Also eyed for a takeover by the national government is Burnham Park in Baguio City.

Puyat said the government is considering a presidential executive order for the takeover while waiting for the next Congress to pass a law amending the Local Government Code, which devolved DOT functions to local government units (LGUs).

In case the takeover pushes through, the sites will be supervised by an interagency management team that will include representatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of the Interior and Local Government, LGUs and the private sector.

Puyat said President Duterte is also “serious” about plans to impose a carrying capacity to limit tourist arrivals in Bohol’s Panglao Island and El Nido, with Siargao in Surigao del Norte and Coron in Palawan to follow.

Panglao and El Nido were given six months to clean up or face closure like Boracay. But Puyat said El Nido is much larger than Boracay, and compliance with laws is uneven, with some resorts observing a larger easement of 40 meters.

“It would be unfair to close a whole island,” Puyat said as she noted that El Nido officials and resort owners initially complied with the cleanup efforts but stopped, like children – “parang mga bata.”

If the situation does not change by the end of the month, she said, “what we did in Boracay, we can do it in El Nido. That was the instruction of the President – just follow the law.”

She noted that a gorge was cut through a mountain in El Nido, a declared protected area, to make way for a resort. This could not have happened, she said, without the knowledge of the mayor.

Siargao, recently picked as a top island destination by Conde Nast magazine, is next to face cleanup. Puyat, however, said the private sector and local officials in Siargao are more cooperative and the national government sees an easier campaign on the island.

The DOT has taken over Boracay and the mayor of Malay town, which has jurisdiction over the island, has been ordered dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman. Puyat said the same fate could face other negligent LGU officials.

Boracay will be closed to cruise ships during peak travel seasons to observe the carrying capacity. This year, the blocked dates are Oct. 26 to Nov. 8 during the All Saints’ Day break, and Nov. 23 to Jan. 5, 2020 during the Southeast Asian Games and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“We’re now being judged by the whole world based on Boracay,” said Puyat, who talked about the cleanup of the island at the Asian Development Bank meeting in this Fijian capital.

A group of experts is working on the determination of the reasonable carrying capacity initially for the top tourist destinations. (philstar.com)