Banwa Private Island in Roxas town, northern Palawan is up for inspection next month by four national government agencies to ensure it is not overstepping tourism policies and environmental laws.
Department of Tourism (DOT) MIMAROPA regional director Danilo Intong said the team that will make the assessment will be composed of his office and the regional offices of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Environmental Management Burea (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Health (DOH).
He told Palawan News this on Monday following the DILG’s caution on the operator of the island resort that it may face “closure” for operating without “necessary government permits.”
Intong said they have not yet accredited the private island because the business license it presented earlier was not what they require.
“Nag-apply ang Banwa sa amin, pero hindi kami nagbigay ng DOT accreditation agad kasi may mga documents pa sila na dapat ayusin. Pero naayos na nila ‘yong isa, ‘yong business license lang nila. Kasi ‘yong na-submit nila dati ay business license ng warehouse, trading, at saka ‘yong eco-development corporation,” he said.
Intong said if Banwa will operate as a resort, the business license should bear its name and should match all the other “required” documents.
“Mag-o-operate sila ng resort, kailangan resort ‘yong business license. Pagkatapos, dapat ay tugma… dapat Banwa Private Island Resort. Kasi ‘yong nilagay nila sa mga dating documents sa Aquos Development Corporation, Kaliksi something na ano… (inaudible) so, hindi siya puwede. Kaya pinaulit namin, pinaayos namin sa munisipyo,” he pointed out.
Intong said Banwa probably used its old business license without understanding what is really needed.
He said Banwa applied before it opened, but when they reviewed the application and found some documents lacking.
“Pagkatapos nag-apply sila ng wastewater permit sa EMB at application pa lang ‘yon. Wala pa ‘yong certificate. Kapag ganoon, mas lalo na isla ‘yan, hindi kami basta-basta mag-a-accredit. Kailangan hintayin namin ang certification from EMB,” Intong said.
He said they are scheduled to visit Banwa on June 27 to 28 to check on its sewage treatment plant and facilities to accommodate future guests.
No operation without DOT accreditation
Intong said before it can fully operate, Banwa should first have its accreditation from the DOT even if it already has a business license from the municipal government.
He said the new procedure is based on Memorandum Circular 2017-17 issued by the DILG on February 6, reminding all local government units (LGUs) that under the Tourism Act’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR), primary tourism enterprises (PTEs) such as hotels, resorts, inns, and other accommodations, are required to secure accreditation from the DOT before they are issued licenses to operate.
“Mayroon tayong ano [bagong proseso] ngayon na kailangan DOT accreditation muna,” Intong said, explaining that although it only came out in February, “ignorance of the law excuses no one.”
He said copies of the circular were sent earlier to the LGUs so they can help spread the new procedure on securing the license to operate to the affected sectors.
“Sabi ko nga sa kanila, mali ‘yong ginawa nila na inuna ang promotion and marketing. Pumutok na kaagad sa international pero hindi pa nga nila naayos ang lahat,” he said.
Intong also added that in a meeting with the representative of Banwa also on Monday, a certain Mr. Dumasig from its finance department assured they are not yet operating.
“‘Yon ang assurance nila sa akin. Ayon sa usapan namin kaninang umaga… si Mr. Dumasig na assigned sa permitting… in-assure naman niya na di pa sila tumatanggap ng bookings,” he added.
He added Banwa, which is specifically located on Kaliksi Island in Roxas town, is reportedly being managed by Aquos Management, Inc. and operated by Kaliksi Incorporated and Aquos Development Corporation.
On their part, he said they will be assessing the private island because it has applied for “star rating.”
“Kung sa rating ‘yan, premium accreditation. Meaning to say after the inspection, it can be rated as one star, two, or five star. Isasabay na rin namin ang third party auditor na mag-au-audit independently kasi nakita na namin ‘yong mga legal documents, so i-au-audit naman ang physical presence ng facilities,” he added.
Intong said they will have to look into the quality of Banwa’s facilities, including services.
DENR on Banwa’s environmental compliance
DENR regional director Henry Adornado, meanwhile, said Banwa has already been issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) by their agency issued on September 19, 2008, by former regional director Reynaldo Villafuerte.
Adornado said the ECC allows the resort to proceed to operate as it has already been certified to be compliant with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system.
He said this means Banwa’s operation will not cause significant negative impacts on the environment.
Adornado explained further that the ECC which carries no expiration date will only cease to apply if, within five years, the private island resort did not operate.
“As far as our regulation is concerned, I guess they can do that kasi as per record they already have the environmental compliance certificate issued in September 2008… mag-e-eleven years ago pala. ECC kasi is wala namang expiration ‘yan as long as nag-e-exist [‘yong business]. Nag-e-expire lang ‘yan if today na-issue sa establishment and within five years hindi sila nag-operate. Pero kung nag-operate sila, valid ‘yong kanilang certificate,” Adornado said.
He said what the DENR needs to do under this case is to monitor Banwa’s compliance as far as the environmental management plan is concerned.
Based on available information, the over six-hectare private island took an estimated 10 years to develop with six trendy beachfront villas “plus the owner’s exclusive residence.”
“Siguro tingin ko dyan, the ECC was issued prior to the construction. At saka, it took several years bago nila nakumpleto ‘yong structures ng establishments. As per record, they are required to construct a desalination plant and a sewage treatment facility,” he said.
These facilities, Adornado specified, will have to be inspected to ensure Banwa’s compliance with environmental laws.
“We need to verify the ECC, we need to validate kasi based sa project description, kumpleto sila. In fact, ‘yong air pollution control device nila was issued a permit to operate as well doon sa kanilang genset,” he said.
He said the management of Banwa Private Island also submitted a property title for Kaliksi Island this is why the team he will bring will include representatives from the DENR’s titling division, staff that will look into easement compliance, and the EMB to test water samples.
Adornado said Banwa should have already been given the license to operate “a long time ago” since it has issued clearances on their record.
But with the new procedure on accreditation, it has to be inspected not only by their agency and the DOT but also by the DOH and the DILG.
“Actually, dapat noon pa na accredit na ito kasi base sa record namin, meron silang mga issued clearances from the DENR. But kasi nga merong bagong procedure. Kaya kasama ang DOT kasi para ma-assess na rin nila,” he said.
If Kaliksi island is a titled property, Banwa’s villas should be 20 meters away from the highest tide to be easement zone compliant.
Its website shows that Banwa also features a short game golf course, a wildlife sanctuary and Tabon trail, a tennis court, what appears to be a helipad for private guest transfers, and a seaside restaurant among others.