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CRACKDOWN IN TOURIST DESTINATIONS

DENR to run after environmental law violators in Puerto Galera

DIRTY WATERS Sabang Beach, a popular tourist destination in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, is also coming under scrutiny in the government’s crackdown on unclean resorts and business establishments. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now targeting violators of environmental laws at the tourist town of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro province, following crackdowns last week on erring establishments at two prime tourist destinations—Boracay Island in Aklan province and Panglao Island in Bohol province.

This brings to three the special task forces recently formed by the DENR in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) to clean up popular beach and tourist sites in the region.

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Aside from Puerto Galera, the two other tourist towns on the DENR watch list in Mimaropa are El Nido and Coron, both in Palawan province.

“It (task force) would be for the same thing that is being done in Boracay, El Nido and Coron,” said the DENR-Mimaropa director, Natividad Bernardino.

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El Nido inspection

Most commercial establishments in El Nido were violating sewage and sanitation laws, the DENR said following an initial inspection of establishments conducted last week.

“The disregard for environmental laws in El Nido is overwhelming,” Bernardino said in a statement.

She said the agency’s initial inspection showed that “80 percent of establishments … were found to have no wastewater discharge permits from the DENR.”

Bernardino also noted a local municipal government report indicating that around 70 percent of El Nido’s commercial establishments had failed to empty their septic tanks on a regular basis.

The crackdown on beach resorts and business establishments took off from Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu’s orders to run after violators of the solid waste management and clean water acts, as well as laws on coastal easement zones.

This came after President Duterte referred to Boracay, a world-famous tourist destination, as a “cesspool” and threatened to shut it down in six months unless the sewage and garbage problems on the island were solved.

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The President has warned local government officials in charge of Boracay that they would be held criminally liable for neglect.

Mr. Duterte is just waiting for Cimatu’s recommendations before taking any further action, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on Monday.

Cimatu has gone around Boracay to check on resorts and other business there.

Moratorium

The Department of Tourism imposed on Monday a six-month ban on the accreditation of establishments in Boracay “to prevent the continued harmful disposal of wastewater into the seas” of the country’s foremost tourist destination.

The DENR-Mimaropa has also been inspecting resorts in El Nido and Coron in recent weeks and will do the same in Puerto Galera by March, Bernardino said.

She said the DENR was particularly concerned about sewage problems and the poor water quality in Sabang Bay at Barangay Sabang and in White Beach at Barangay San Isidro in Puerto Galera.

Water sampling conducted over the past six years had found high levels of coliform contamination in the bay, she said.

Known for its world-class diving spots, Sabang annually draws 70,000 to 80,000 foreign tourists. White Beach, on the opposite end of the town, has 250,000 to 300,000 local patrons, according to the local government.

‘Not worried’

Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan, in a telephone interview on Sunday, did not contest the DENR findings. He said the problem had persisted “over the last 10 years.”

Ilagan said the local government had been monitoring White Beach, whose coasts teem with bars and beachgoers. Its water quality has yet to reach an alarming level, he claimed.

“The past (local government) administration was planning to get a loan to build a sewerage treatment facility. [When I assumed office] I didn’t want to borrow money so we instead solicited funds from the [national government],” the mayor said.

Last year, the Department of Public Works and Highways approved and allocated P100 million to build a sewerage treatment facility in Sabang Bay.

Construction of the facility will begin in March, Ilagan said. “That’s why I’m not worried [about the crackdown, because] we consider this [problem] already addressed.” —WITH REPORTS FROM REDEMPTO D. ANDA AND JOVIC YEE

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TAGS: DENR, environmental laws, Puerto Galera clenup, tourist destinations
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