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):
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- Be an eco-warrior: bring your personal refillable water bottle. Remember, single use plastic water bottles are banned during island hopping.
- Drink alcoholic beverages only in licensed establishments. Do not drink on the beach to avoid generating trash and broken glass.
- Do not litter. Keep your garbage until you find a trash can.
- Smoke only in designated places and properly dispose of your cigarette butts.
- Respect the environment. Do not collect shells, sand, and other natural resources.
- Leave only footprints. Just keep taking photos and videos of the beautiful landscape and flora/fauna.
- 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.
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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
5A municipal order was served on March 2018 to the following establishments7:
- Amigo’s Inn
- Engel Nido
- Angel Wish
- Caalan Beach Resort
- Cadlao Resort
- Cadlao Resort Extension
- Café Athena
- El Nido Beach Resort
- El Nido Boutique Art and Café
- El Nido Garden
- El Nido Reef Strand Resort
- Golden Monkey
- Hadefe Beach Resort
- Hidden Beach Resort
- Isla Expeditions
- Jarace Grill
- Kalinga Beach Resort
- La Salanganne
- Lally And Abet Extension
- Linda Leona Store
- Mezzanine El Nido
- Nido Bay Inn
- Organic Spa
- Palawan Pawnshop
- Relucio Inn
- Rosanna’s Pension
- Shorepass Lodge
- Sonny Sails
- The Nest
- 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.
8“El Nido, Palawan,” accessed October 26, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.
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