Tourist fee hike splits Puerto Galera
CALAPAN CITY, Philippines—Visiting Puerto Galera? The tourist town in Oriental Mindoro may become less inviting, according to residents and resort owners, if local officials push through with their plan to double the environmental user’s fee (EUF) they collect from those coming over.
Resort operators and other sectors dependent on the tourism industry say that increasing the EUF from P50 to P120 per visitor could cause a major drop in tourist arrivals.
The municipality started charging the P50 EUF in November 2007 when the annual tourist arrivals were projected to reach one million.
<Strong>Sewage treatment plant </strong>
With the higher rates, the local officials expect to raise P100 million for the construction of a sewage water treatment plant (SWTP) at the northwestern tip of Oriental Mindoro, which is popular for its white sand beaches and dive sites.
Puerto Galera Mayor Hubert Christopher Dolor said the SWTP project could no longer be delayed because of water contamination, as shown by studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (Pemsea).
Sixto Tolentino Jr., head of the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau in Mimaropa (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan), has warned in a public hearing in Puerto Galera on Jan. 28 that the town’s Sabang shoreline is already contaminated.
“All must act immediately [to stop] … its worsening condition,” he said.
He said the dive sites were still free from contamination because of the unique topography of Puerto Galera. “The dilution process is very strong,” he said.
The Pemsea study, commissioned by the United Nations Development Program, stressed that Puerto Galera must have a comprehensive sewage system to ensure that its environment would remain protected even as tourism grew.
It recommended that the SWTP cover Sabang in Phase 1 and Barangays Poblacion (Muelle) and San Isidro (White Beach) in Phase 2.
<Strong>P58-M allotment </strong>
Dolor said the town itself could not undertake the sewage project since it was only receiving an internal revenue allotment of P58 million a year. Moreover, he said, it could not raise the P100 million needed for the SWTP if it only relied on the current P50 EUF being collected.
The proposed measure seeks to increase the fee to P120, to be collected for a period of 25 years. The EUF collections would be used as collateral for a loan that would finance the SWTP, Dolor said.
Members of the San Isidro Beach Resort Owners Association (Sibora), boatmen, vendors, tour guides, tricycle drivers, teachers and residents have signed a petition opposing the fee increase.
They needed time to look for affordable alternatives to the SWTP, said Sibora president Joel de Veyra.
Some residents have suggested to build more septic tanks rather than an SWTP, but Dolor, a medical doctor, said this would not solve the sewage problem.
“Septic tanks are only possible in upland areas. These can’t be (installed) on the coastline; that is prohibited because a leakage would also go to the sea,” he said.
De Veyra said that while the resort owners also wanted that water pollution in Puerto Galera addressed, an increase in EUF would only exacerbate the declining tourist arrivals.
Municipal records showed that arrivals ranged only from 200,000 to 250,000 a year—a far cry from the projected one million.