Say, Say, Say: NO BORACAY-LIKE CLOSURE FOR EL NIDO

Have you booked a vacation in El Nido for the end of 2018 or for the first half of 2019? Are you alarmed by the current news about its rehabilitation and afraid that your dream vacation in this beautiful island will be affected?

Well, fret no more! Here are some updates and tips, since I am also affected with my December 7-11scheduled vacation to this designated “best beach and island destination”.1

Let’s look back on this year (2018):

  1. In February, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA2 formed Task Force El Nido to address the environmental problems of the island, prioritizing the delineation of the standard easement zones and timberland areas, the degradation of water quality in Bacuit Bay3, garbage disposal, unregulated construction of structures, and the wastewater management.4
  2. In March4:

(a) Malacañang urged the local government and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to immediately demolish illegal structures built along the town’s foreshore in violation of zoning and easement laws, and to take the initiative in implementing environmental laws;

(b) the local government underwent a cleanup drive and regulated the use of plastics, cellophane and Styrofoam as food and drink containers, among others;

(c) DENR Secretary Cimatu ordered the eviction of 32 businesses5 found to have been in violation of the 3-meter coastal easement provided under the Philippine Water Code for classified urban areas like El Nido, inspite of an order from local officials that gave a grace period to the affected establishments before they voluntarily demolish the structures;

(d) the Task Force issued 407 eviction notices to structures built on declared easement zones and forestlands and served violation notices to 253 establishments found non-compliant with laws regulating wastewater discharge and easement compelling them to pay penalties ranging from PHP20,000 to 200,000 per day. Erring establishment owners were given time to comply through technical conferences facilitated by the regional Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

3. Thereafter, national government officials met with local officials to discuss several problems, especially overcrowding and pollution in the lagoons due to the large influx of tourists (peaking at over 200,000 in 2017), as well as cooking and throwing trash.

4. President Duterte told Palawan residents to impose stricter regulations and put a cap on the number of tourists to protect its natural wonders.

5. In May, the town and DENR cleared the main beach in Bacuit Bay so it is now accessible to tourists.

6. In August, a photo of garbage floating around the Secret Lagoon went viral on social media.6 Actually, 140 sacks of foreign plastic trash were collected, mostly (70%) plastic bottles of foreign origin that found their way into the Secret Lagoon on Miniloc Island. Other debris were Styrofoam, rubber scraps, plastic wrappers, nylon and ropes. A DENR official said that the waste was carried by ocean currents and strong winds, made stronger by monsoon rains that hit Palawan. This led to a cleanup drive by the owners and workers of local tourist establishments and members of the Philippine Coast Guard.

7. In October, the local government demolished 95% of illegal structures in the town proper’s easement zone, according to Municipal Administrator Rene Jay Dela Calzada. He added that these structures were legal until the shoreline receded due to the gradual rise in sea level.7

8. In November, water pollution levels around the main beach area in the island have gone down significantly, according to the latest tests conducted by the EMB. DENR MIMAROPA said the results of water tests in Barangays Corong-Corong, Maligaya and Masagana in Bacuit Bay, after 7 months of Task Force El Nido’s monitoring and cleanup drive, indicated that the fecal coliform levels had gone down to “normal”. However, Barangay Buena Suerte, a populated area, has a fecal coliform level of 1,600 MPN (most probable number) per 100 millimeters, and still needs to be improved, based on the prescribed 100 MPN.

The local government also intensified its crackdown on illegal tour operators and have started apprehending boat tour operators with no proper documents.7

9. On November 28, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año went to El Nido to discuss the rehabilitation plans for the island with the local government officials, just like what they did in Boracay.

What’s next, especially in the next 6 months?

  1. El Nido will be rehabilitated but will not be closed off, according to the Department of Tourism. There are many establishments that abide by government requirements and the local government took initiatives to address the town’s problems, so total closure is not necessary.

Environment Secretary Cimatu said that he ordered the deployment of 50 personnel from the DENR to conduct a baseline assessment of El Nido and oversee the rehabilitation effort.4

The government is preparing an executive order to be issued by President Duterte detailing the rehabilitation plan for El Nido. The DENR will also ask the national government to allocate funds for activities that the town would need, including a plan to transfer the local port.4

Secretary Cimatu, on November 28, 2018, gave local officials 6 months to complete a rehabilitation program to rid the town’s beaches of pollution and enforce environmental compliance of commercial establishments. By then, the town’s water treatment and sewerage project would have been completed.4

2. It was reported that 22 establishments will be closed due to various violations. Fifty other establishments will be strictly monitored by DENR.4,7

3. El Nido Municipal Administrator Dela Calzada said authorities would soon limit the number of tourists visiting key island destinations to preserve the area.

The local government has set the tourist limit at the island’s Big Lagoon to 60 per hour with kayak trips at 30 per hour; and, for the Small Lagoon, at only 30 tourists and 15 kayak trips per hour.7

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said the government will make sure that thousands of tourist boats will not spill wastewater and oil into the bay.

4. Tour packages will also be redesigned to regulate the number of tourists. El Nido used to offer 4 standard tour packages, with 5 to 6 attractions per package; soon, there will be 7 tour packages with fewer destinations per package.7

5. Early this year, single use plastics in tour packages, particularly water bottles, have been banned. Coast guard personnel inspect boats and confiscate plastic bottles before they are allowed to sail.7

6. An interagency body is set to undertake a massive cleanup of El Nido.4,7 The DENR will follow the same time frame it employed in rehabilitating Boracay Island since it has the same problems: quality of water, improper sewage system, and easement violations. DENR Secretary Cimatu said that the rehabilitation of El Nido will only cover small areas with minimum government intervention.7

7. DENR will continue its campaign against erring establishments off Bacuit Bay3, hopefully, by the end of the year.4

8. The government has yet to determine the carrying capacity of El Nido, but funds for the study are already on standby, according to Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.7

9. DENR Secretary Cimatu is pushing for a 20-meter no-build zone. He said the current 3-meter easement zone from the shoreline should be adjusted “to allow tourists to enjoy the sand and the view with enough space,” as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, land titles were issued by the DENR in the 1980s/earlier.7

10. The local government is building a centralized sewage treatment plant that is expected to be operational in 2019.7

11. The government is pushing for the strict implementation of Municipal Ordinance No. 29, or the sanitation ordinance, that prohibits any house or establishment from discharging liquid waste directly to the ocean, according to Mayor Nieves Rosento.7

12. A dedicated security task force is also in the pipeline to ensure the safety of all tourists visiting the islands.4

So, what should tourists do when visiting El Nido, starting December 2018?

  1. Be a responsible tourist. Be cooperative; follow all new guidelines as well as rules/regulations set by the local government/Task Force El Nido, if any.
  2. Be an eco-warrior: bring your personal refillable water bottle. Remember, single use plastic water bottles are banned during island hopping.
  3. Drink alcoholic beverages only in licensed establishments. Do not drink on the beach to avoid generating trash and broken glass.
  4. Do not litter. Keep your garbage until you find a trash can.
  5. Smoke only in designated places and properly dispose of your cigarette butts.
  6. Respect the environment. Do not collect shells, sand, and other natural resources.
  7. Leave only footprints. Just keep taking photos and videos of the beautiful landscape and flora/fauna.
  8. Level your expectations, be patient and understanding. Bear in mind that El Nido is undergoing rehabilitation so there would be on-going construction, repairs, etc. Just remember that all these projects are for sustainable tourism in the municipality, for future generations to visit, appreciate and enjoy.

Did you find this post informative? I would like to hear from you. Are you a responsible traveler? Do you have any other tips for El Nido travellers? Simply scroll to “Leave a Reply” and enter your comment in the box. Please scroll and click the “Like” tab and “Facebook” to share this post. Do not forget to follow me by clicking “Follow” on the lower right corner of your device.

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1CNNGo named El Nido as the “Best Beach and Island Destination in the Philippines” for its “extraordinary natural splendor and ecosystem,” according to the Wikipedia page “El Nido, Palawan”.8

2MIMAROPA, or the Southwestern Tagalog Region (as of 2016), is a Philippine region located in the island group of Luzon, with Calapan as its regional center. It has 6 local government units (LGUs): Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Puerto Princesa (a city in Palawan), and Romblon. This region was formerly called Region IV-B (2002-2016). NOTE: MIMAROPA is an acronym for this region’s provinces: MIndoro (Occidental and Oriental), MArinduque, ROmblon, PAlawan.

3Bacuit Bay is a huge archipelago or group of 45 limestone islands clustered together, offering clear and cool watershome to interesting marine life and coral reefs, plus captivating beaches, marble cliffs, awesome lagoons, mangrove forests, enchanting dive sites, caves, among others. It is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The largest town in the vicinity is El Nido so tourists enter this bay through that town.9

4www.newsinfo.inquirer.net

5A municipal order was served on March 2018 to the following establishments7:

  1. Amigo’s Inn
  2. Engel Nido
  3. Angel Wish
  4. Caalan Beach Resort
  5. Cadlao Resort
  6. Cadlao Resort Extension
  7. Café Athena
  8. Chislyk
  9. El Nido Beach Resort
  10. El Nido Boutique Art and Café
  11. El Nido Garden
  12. El Nido Reef Strand Resort
  13. Golden Monkey
  14. Hadefe Beach Resort
  15. Hidden Beach Resort
  16. Isla Expeditions
  17. Jarace Grill
  18. Kalinga Beach Resort
  19. La Salanganne
  20. Lally And Abet Extension
  21. Linda Leona Store
  22. Mezzanine El Nido
  23. Nido Bay Inn
  24. Organic Spa
  25. Palawan Pawnshop
  26. Prince’s
  27. Relucio Inn
  28. Rosanna’s Pension
  29. Shorepass Lodge
  30. Sonny Sails
  31. The Nest
  32. TTD Store

These establishments were given 30 days to vacate and demolish their property that crossed the 3-meter easement zone. I still need to find an article regarding an update on these establishments.

6www.news.mb.com.ph

7www.news.abs-cbn.com

8“El Nido, Palawan,” accessed October 26, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

9www.elnidotourism.com

Photo Credit: Some photos in the featured collage image were obtained from Gani Ricarte of Hello El Nido! Just search for his website: www.helloelnido.com

Say, Say, Say: VERY OLD TREES ALONG THE MAIN STREET OF STA. CRUZ, LAGUNA

Hey, dearest Seniors, did you recite the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer when you were small like me in the 1960s? Let’s see if you remember the words: “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree; a tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; a tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray; a tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair; upon whose bosom snow has lain, who intimately lives with rain. Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

Every time I pass by the main street of Sta, Cruz, Laguna, I appreciate the very old trees planted in front of the Laguna Capitol Compound all the way to Pedro Guevarra Memorial High School.

Recently, the sidewalk was improved and cemented. I am not a tree doctor nor an agriculturist, but when I look at each old tree, most of them seem to be sick or dying, or at least at high-risk from street “beautification” and people. Two of the old trees are hollow and one is even stuffed with garbage. So sad! I am sure that if Joyce Kilmer were still alive, he would certainly share my sadness when he sees these trees.

Tree-1

Tree-2

Tree-3

Tree-4

Tree-5

Tree-6

Tree-7

Tree-8

Tree-9

I do not know how old the trees are but I was also able to take the pictures above to call the attention of the following authorities:

  1. the foresters of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Region IV-A;
  2. retired forest pathologist Dr. Ernesto Militante, from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños,who applied a solution to heal the girdled trees along the Manila North Road in Binalonan, Pangasinan1;
  3. retired forester and silviculturist2 Roger de Guzman, also from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños;
  4. Mutya Manalo, a professor at the College of Forestry and Natural Resources. University of the Philippines, Los Baños;
  5. the local government of the town of Sta. Cruz (in the province of Laguna) to take care of the old trees amidst “beautification” projects, upon consultation with tree experts; and,
  6. organizations like the Philippine Federation for Environmental Concerns (PFEC)3 and the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE)4.

Please come soon and visit these roadside trees and assess their status – healthy, diseased or defective. Do you have a diagnostic tool to determine the state of health of the trees? I pray you have a radar imaging system, or even more advanced diagnostic tools, to get a high resolution, non-invasive image of the internal structure of the trees and its root mass, in order to assess the health and structural integrity of the trees.

I hope the trees can still be brought to a healthier state, or heal, if they are sick, diseased, or need tree surgery. Perhaps proper pruning could be done at the start of this rainy season, so they will not pose any danger to pedestrians and motorists.

Seniors, do you remember our elementary science lessons about trees? They give us shade and fruits, absorb carbon dioxide, and release the oxygen which we breathe, and even stabilize the soil, among others. A good website post is www.treepeople.org’s 22 benefits of trees.

A busy town like Sta. Cruz, the capital of the province of Laguna, must treasure trees since they: improve the air quality; absorb the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, remove and store the carbon and release oxygen back into the air; clean the air when they absorb odors and pollutant gases and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and barks; cool the streets by up to 10°F, thereby breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves; lower stress; boost happiness; reduce flood risks; shield children from UV-B exposure; cut air-conditioning needs of nearby buildings by 30%; heal (patients heal faster seeing trees from their windows; children with ADHD show fewer symptoms) and reduce mental fatigue; reduce violence and fear; provide urban homes for birds and bees; muffle the sound from the streets; are eye-soothing; and, absorb dust and wind, and reduce glare.5

By the way, this blog post is written in honor of World Environment Day (June 5) which aims to raise awareness of the importance of respecting and protecting the environment.

I am not a die-hard environmentalist (I do not even belong to any organization), I am not a poet (who can write poems for trees), I am not God (who is the only One who can make a tree). I am a Senior Citizen who is no fool and who wants to save very old trees through her blog! Healthy trees for a healthier town! Achieve!

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1www.pangasinan.gov.ph

2A silviculturist is a person who studied forestry and is involved in the cultivation of trees.

3The Philippine Federation for Environmental Concern (PFEC) is a network of concerned individuals, non-government organizations and people-organizations concerned with environmental issues, established in 1979. It promotes and develops environmental consciousness among Filipinos; unites and coordinates with local communities in their efforts for environmental protection and natural resources management; and, joins in national and worldwide environmental action. Visit the Facebook account: Philippine Federation for Environmental Concern.

4The Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), founded in 1992, is an organization which helps mitigate the destruction of the natural resources of the Philippines. It leads actions in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development towards healthy ecosystems and resilient communities. It is committed to build constituencies and capacities for the environment, promote responsive policies and actions for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Visit the website: www.fpe.ph

5www.treepeople.org