EDITORIAL: Nickelodeon failed to do proper due diligence in Palawan

This week’s biggest news to us was the announcement of Viacom International Media Networks, the owner of the Nickelodeon brand, severing its business ties with Coral World Parks (CWP) over plans to build an underwater attraction and resort facility in Coron.

The project was supposed to be grand and it had captured the imagination of many. What made it controversial was the announcement Viacom made from the outset that they will construct an underwater facility for people to observe and enjoy marine life from the comforts of some sort of a glass contraption as a guest of the resort – the entire experience spiced with Sponge Bob and other Nickelodeon characters to make it really special.

The concept was flawed at best, and it immediately triggered opposition. No engineering marvel can build upon live corals to install those glass encasements and not destroy pristine marine life in the process. And why build it in the first place? The best and only way to enjoy nature is keep it in its natural state, undisturbed.

A protest campaign was launched, with the indigenous communities of Coron in the forefront and with local and international NGOs led by Greenpeace exerting pressure on the government to reject the project. DOT Secretary Wanda Teo at one point made a pitch for the project and sparked more protests. She later backtracked and claimed she wasn’t endorsing the plan. She only emboldened the campaign further.

CWP also backpedaled, claiming they were simply going to build a land based resort and have glass bottom boats which are less benign. There was no plan to begin with, as none of the companies involved have submitted or presented a proposal. It was not even clear where in Coron exactly they were going to build.

Viacom’s announcement issued early this week was short and terse, merely stating that both companies had mutually agreed to discontinue the Nickelodeon licensing agreement.

Following Viacom’s announcement, CWP issued a separate statement confirming the severance of their partnership while maintaining that their own plans, whatever its shape and design is now, will continue.

The Filipino-owned company CWP is a venture capitalist looking for a strategic partner. It’s background, unfortunately, is suspect and it was Nickelodeon’s fault to miserably fail in its due diligence. CWP’s opening sentence describing itself in its own website lays claim to being “the largest marine reserve and conservation program in Asia”, for ostensibly owning a cluster of 16 islands in Palawan.

Nickelodeon or Viacom, if it wanted to go into marine conservation, could simply follow the examples of other major companies such as Bloomberg, Hewlett Packard or Starbucks that are engaged with legitimate marine conservation groups like Oceana, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International to undertake real conservation efforts in Palawan or anywhere within the vaunted global marine triangle. As far as the mainstream conservation community knows, Coral World Parks has not published a single transect survey of any square meter of coral reefs anywhere in the Coral Triangle to lay claim to being a serious conservation organization. It claims to be a partner with several marine conservation organizations but did not identify what groups these are.

Following its breakup with Viacom, CWP has vowed to continue with whatever it now plans to develop in its supposed property claims. Like any startup venture, it will need a financial partner to start all over again. Its concept of an underwater attraction was a hard sell that was doomed from the start.

The company, in its statement, has announced it will instead develop its own brand over land and within its own private domain which it claims is a former mining site. Greenpeace and Palawan’s civil society groups have placed CWP on their radar screen and it will be tough for such a bold and daring start up to market another ill conceived idea.


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