With the problems facing El Nido and Coron these days concerning environmental violations being committed mostly by tourism establishments, Board Member Winston Arzaga has made a point in a privilege speech this week that the blame should equally be shared by government.
BM Arzaga pointed to the fact that many of these establishments had been operating with tacit permission from local governments. They had mayor’s permits to begin with and on such basis had been allowed to put up their businesses. But most, as it turned out had failed to meet other legal requirements, including various environmental clearances from agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).
In the case of El Nido and Coron, the municipal governments had allowed people to build within the coastal easement zone, mandated by the national water code in their cases to be that area of three meters starting from the high tide line.
The reality in Palawan, as in most other places in the country, is such that violations like these are common place. They were merely highlighted by President Duterte ranting about how extensive it was being done in Boracay and threatening to shut down the place.
BM Arzaga correctly pointed out that the PCSD was also to blame for allowing many establishments to operate without Strategic Environmental Clearances (SEP). He missed to point out however that the Council meanwhile had also given SEP clearances to many large scale and controversial projects in the past without proper due diligence, in many cases contravening technical and science-based recommendations made by its staff.
The DENR is the main enforcement agency that is mandated to implement environmental policies. It is ironic that with its present strict posturing on the country’s major tourism sites, it also does not admit to its own sins.
The problem of El Nido and Coron about environmental compliance is but an indicator of a massive anomaly going on in Palawan. The DENR and the PCSD are complicit in failing to strictly enforce what the various laws already state about protecting not only coastal zones but all public domains as well, including tribal lands.
This is not to say that the government is wrong in cracking the whip on El Nido and Coron. It is to challenge our policy makers and enforcement agencies to apply the same treatment to everyone, to make the law stick as they should.