PUERTO PRINCESA CITY – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) stepped up its clamp down on illegal establishments in El Nido this week, after rejecting an appeal from the town’s private sector tourism stakeholders to hold off serving their eviction notices until after the ongoing tourist peak season.
As the second week of its campaign wrapped up on Friday, some 32 establishments located along the town’s coastal beach of Bacuit Bay that were the first group of businesses cited for violation of the easement zone, have begun to voluntarily demolish their structures.
They had been given until April 11 to self-demolish pursuant to the provision in the national water code disallowing any construction within three meters inland from the high tide line. As the deadline lapsed, DENR officials said they will speak with the other establishment owners who have not yet complied with their order.
Apart from clearing the crowded beaches and citing establishments for a range of violations including pollutive waste management practices, the DENR had also begun an inspection of residences and commercial establishments that were occupying supposed public or timberland areas, mostly in the main village of Corong-Corong just outside the town proper.
The DENR this week served a total of 79 notices of eviction to residences, hotels, commercial establishments and even a public elementary school, pointing out that the area is classified as timberland.
The DENR regional office for MIMAROPA officials based in the regional office of Luzon IV-B said they will validate the claims, hinting also that titles may have been illegally awarded to individuals with the connivance of some of their personnel.
“The burden of proof is on those who claim to have the legal basis for the occupation of timberland,” DENR Regional Director Natividad Bernardino said.
On Friday, the municipal DENR head, OIC-CENRO Pablo Cruz, announced they will soon start issuing 223 new notices to vacate covering timberland areas in other barangays around El Nido including Masagana, Maligaya, Pemeladan and Buena Suerte.
The DENR has set a self-imposed deadline of six months to complete its clean-up drive in El Nido, the campaign coming in the heels of President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier declaration to shut down Boracay for six months after describing it as a “cesspool.”
The provincial DENR office said they will shift their attention to the town of Coron, also a major tourist destination after the clean up of El Nido. It recently released water quality monitoring tests that showed extremely high levels of coliform contamination of the nearshore areas around the town, attributing this to the absence of a sewage facility in the island town.
DENR following an outdated map
The El Nido municipal government says it supports the clean-up drive, even as its mayor, Nieves Rosento, appealed for a review of the eviction orders in the populated area of Corong-Corong, which she claimed is a “multiple-use area” based on their town’s zoning plan.
The DENR insisted, however, the area is still classified timberland based on official NAMRIA maps.
“The Land Classification Map of 1941 for Corong-Corong remains valid because there has been no congressional legislation that reclassifies the area. We have no choice but to follow the existing map,” Task Force El Nido chair Manuel Escasura told Palawan News.
Eviction of school
The DENR action also received flak from provincial board members this week, who pointed out that the land titles possessed by affected residents in Corong-Corong were valid titles they issued and castigating the agency for including them.
“They have titles over those lands. About 90 percent of those properties in Coron-Corong have titles issued as early as 1935,” El Nido Mayor Nieves Rosento told Palawan News.
Rosento has appealed to the DENR the eviction of El Nido National High School, saying they have no other land to relocate it.
“Magpapasukan naman, so walang papasukan ang mga bata. Ang hirap din kasing maghanap ng malilipatan, hindi ganoon kadali,” she said.
Director Bernardino for her part urged the municipality to seek the presidential proclamation that will award the property to the school.
Many local residents are alarmed that the problems facing El Nido’s environment because of tourism might place them in the same situation as Boracay, which has been ordered closed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Some local residents have used the social media to raise specific issuing hounding the local environment, including a netizen who took a picture of an outlet drain beside the El Nido Beach Hotel that was discharging colored water into the bay.
The post prompted the El Nido Water and Sanitation System (ENWSS) to explain that the dark-colored water shown in the photo was caused by sediments clogging the drainage canal.
He explained that they were cleaning their reservoir located in Barangay Masagana as part of their maintenance activities every three months, but when they released the water, sediments were carried and drained to the sea.
Sewage Treatment Plant
Meanwhile, the municipality of El Nido and the Department of Education (DepEd)-Division of Palawan on Friday signed an agreement designation a site for putting up solar panels that will feed electricity to the planned construction of the El Nido Sewage Treatment Plant.
Rosento said that the sewage treatment has a P245 million allocation for the water and septage management project of the town.
She said they are expecting to finish the project in over a year.
“We are expecting na mga next year ay ma-turn over ang project na yan,” Rosento said.
She said that this facility will be a central water treatment of the town including households and commercial establishments.
Materials Recovery Facility
The municipal government of El Nido has also allocated P10 million for the construction of a material recovery facility (MRF) building and the purchase of facilities for operation.
The MRF is a specialized plant that will receive, segregate, and prepare recyclable materials for marketing to manufacturers.
Mayor Nieves Rosento said they aim to be fully compliant with Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
“Mga P10 milyon ang para dyan for the procurement of equipment, including the MRF building. Locally funded galing sa budget natin ng 2018,” she said.
Rosento explained that the municipality has already procured the bottle crusher, shredder, and composter for the purpose.
“Isa sa pinaka malaking problema natin itong damog (food leftover) kasi mahigit 100 restaurants tayo dito. Baka kung saan-saan lang itatapon. Nag-PR (purchase request) tayo ng biodigesters para dito at kasama siya sa ibang priority nating mga equipment,” she explained.
The plastic pulverizer, she said, is for the volumes of plastic PET bottles from mineral waters and other plastic which will be sold to buyers once pulverized.
“Makikita mo sa basurahan namin na gabundok ang mga plastic bottles. We need to do something about it,” she said.
She said it is difficult to sell the plastic bottles in volumes as they needed to be shipped to Puerto Princesa City. With the pulverizer, she added that transporting the processed plastics to the city will become more viable.
“Sa ngayon mahirap sya ibenta kasi lugi dahil sa layo ng El Nido to Puerto Princesa, kung e-ship naman ay bulky kaya dapat may pulverizer,” she explained.
The charcoal briquette-maker, on the other hand, will turn cardboards, paper, and paper waste into briquettes or compressed block of paper used for fuel or kindling to start a fire.
She said that if their existing disposal facility will be properly managed, it will have a lifespan of three to five years.
Rosento said El Nido used to generate only five to 10 tons per day of domestic waste, but now, this has increased to 30 tons. (By Gerardo Reyes, Jr., Genn Cansino Magdayao and Keith Anthony Fabro)