Downtown El Nido can get really messy when it rains, to the discomfort of the many tourists visiting the town for its famous sea lagoons, islands, and beaches.
Specially during rainy season, the lower areas of the town get flooded easily. It is common to see locals and tourists wading through foot-deep flood waters.
Despite being a top tourist destination, this first-class town lacks a storm drainage system that can control street flooding, a problem that the municipal government wants to address.
“As you can see, the roads of El Nido are sea-like,” Mayor Nieves Rosento told Palawan News. “Because of the ongoing concreting of almost all establishments, rainwater runs off on the paved road surface.”
Rosento admitted that the former administration, in which she was part of as municipal board member and vice mayor, did not fully see this situation coming. “Before, rainwater on the street just subsided,” she added.
Now, to put the drainage in place, the municipal government has to hurdle an obstacle that impedes its immediate construction — convincing owners of residential houses, tourist accommodations and other business establishments to observe the setback required under national law.
The planned setback is a 1-meter distance between the building and the main road, based on a municipal ordinance passed in 2005 yet hardly observed in El Nido. Strolling around the downtown, one will notice how buildings occupied even the no-take areas, leaving no space for storm drainage and sidewalks.
“Those who will be affected don’t even have at least half meter. And the canals, as we can see, they’ve made it part of their business establishments,” Rosento said.
Beside the construction of storm drainage and sidewalks, the 1-meter setback has been extended to up to 1.7 meters to give way to the separate pipelines for the water supply and sewage and wastewater treatment system projects in the town.
Water quality is also a cause of concern in El Nido as many had been reported to experience loose bowel movement, sepsis and cholera after drinking untreated water, said Engr. Aynon Gonzales, director of Palawan State University’s Center for Strategic Policy and Good Governance, in a sustainable tourism forum organized last week by El Nido Resorts, in cooperation with student fellows from Ateneo de Manila University and Georgetown University.
Through the Capturing Coral Reef Ecosystem Services (CCRES) project, Gonzales’ team studied El Nido’s water pollution problem and found out that solid and liquid waste being disposed by the coastal population was the main cause of pollution.
“Population growth, migration, tourism and resort development are tourism-related pressures that drive those activities,” she added, addressing 138 forum attendees composed of barangay and municipal government officials, people’s organization leaders, establishment owners, among other concerned citizens.
“If we didn’t address these nutrients and it will go to our water bodies, that would cause water pollution,” eventually degrading the town’s groundwater and coastal water, she warned.
El Nido gained unwanted attention in 2014 when it was widely reported that the water quality along the town shoreline had exceeded the allowable limits of pollutants set under the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004.
With the implementation of septage management ordinance, the municipal government assured that pollution levels have since gone down, and the downward trend is likely expected with the construction of the centralized sewage treatment plant in two years time.
To finally kickstart the project, Municipal Administrator RJ de la Calzada said they are negotiating with property owners who have expressed reluctance to abide by the clearance plan.
“They earned a lot from El Nido’s Bacuit Bay. It’s a way of giving back. Remember, the tourists come here not because of their establishments but for nature,” de la Calzada told Palawan News.
Among the estimated 10 percent affected establishment owners is retired navy officer Jun Carollo, 61, who has a pension house situated along one of the busy streets in El Nido. His titled land property is enclosed by a yellow-painted concrete fence that touches the paved road.
In his case, observing the setback means self-demolishing his fence costing around P170,000, without getting any compensation from the municipal government. Others, meanwhile, have to chop a portion of their building which protrudes toward the main road.
“I’m not against those projects. But, if we’re to agree with the setback, will we get paid for the portions to be cut off from our land property? Will they make an adjustment on our land tax that we’ve been paying for so many years?” Carollo said.
Rosento admitted that “definitely, the local government has no capacity to pay them. That’s why we’re negotiating with our affected constituents, so as to convince them to give way because these projects are for the common good.”
Rosento explained that “just compensation” may be given only if the government was going to use the property for recreational purposes.
Rosento reminded establishment owners that they signed a voluntary waiver the last time they renewed their business permit. In the waiver, she explained, it says that they will let the municipal government take over the area for a setback to accommodate any government projects.
As for the land tax adjustment, Rosento said there would be deductions upon reviewing their documents. “If it’s part of the title, we will have it re-surveyed, so we can take the setback space out of their existing property,” she said.
Asked about the actions they will undertake if the business owners did not self-demolish portions of their establishment covered by the setback, Rosento said they will refer it to their legal team who will request permission from the court, allowing them to do the phase out.
Meanwhile, critics say the setback issue could have been addressed at the very start had the past administrations ruled with an iron fist.
Rico Fernandez, a former municipal board member, said the problem was created by the municipal government when it did not properly monitor the construction of business establishments before issuing business licenses or mayor’s permit. (with reports from Melba Pagayona Daganta)