UN probes claim Palawan’s Underground River deteriorating
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—A report claiming that Palawan province’s main tourist draw, the Underground River, is deteriorating has prompted an investigation by the UN body that granted it the status of a World Heritage Site.
Eric Cerrudo, commissioner of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Philippines, in a phone interview, said an independent expert sent by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had completed an investigation of an “anonymous complaint” lodged against the river park at the Paris-based Unesco Heritage Center.
Cerrudo said the IUCN expert sent by the Unesco Heritage Center had completed the review and was set to hold exit conference meetings with park and city government officials.
He said the IUCN expert would also confer with Philippine national officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila prior to the issuance of Unesco’s final report.
Cerrudo expressed confidence the Underground River would hurdle the review.
“I am confident they will see and appreciate the exemplary efforts and management improvements by the city government and the Protected Areas Management Board in the park,” he said.
Cerrudo said the complaint was based on “erroneous observations” about the current condition of the national park, including allegations that it had allowed a rubber plantation within its boundaries.
Another claim in the complaint was the prevalence of illegal wildlife trading.
Cerrudo said that while Unesco relies on IUCN experts to independently validate complaints of these nature, they believed the allegations have no basis.
He said the Unesco Philippines office “was not even aware” of the complaint filed directly at the Unesco headquarters in Paris.
Cerrudo said, however, that one of the challenges facing the city government is coping with the rapid influx of tourists to the 8.2-kilometer-long Underground River that flows directly to the sea.
Questions have been raised about the excessive volume of tourists being allowed daily into the river.
“Tourism activities in the park are peaking very fast the city government has to catch up,” Cerrudo said.
But he said it was unlikely the issue of removing the Underground River on the list of World Heritage Sites would even be raised.
“Most likely there would just be discussions about some specific management issues during a meeting in Berlin next year,” Cerrudo said.
The park was inscribed on the Unesco list of natural World Heritage Sites on Dec. 4, 1999. It is one of two such places in Palawan, the other being the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.
The Underground River’s popularity peaked in 2012 following its recognition as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by a Switzerland-based private foundation, drawing thousands of tourists daily.
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