The municipal government of El Nido is seeking the help of the environment and tourism departments to shut down the operation of Cuna Hotel for numerous violations of local permitting policies and environmental laws.
Mayor Nieves Rosento said Tuesday in an interview with Palawan News that they need the intervention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) for the “immediate closure” of the luxury hotel in Barangay Masagana which has failed to operate in accordance with existing local and national government policies.
“El Nido is under rehabilitation. Hindi tayo pinasara kasi we made necessary actions sa mga hindi nag-co-comply tapos itong Cuna Hotel, malakas ang loob na balewalain ang ginagawa natin,” she said.
She vowed to close Cuna Hotel owned by AIO Hotels and Resorts, Inc. for violations such as not having a business permit, occupancy permit, illegal discharge of untreated wastewater, illegal disposal of wastewater to nearby barangays, and lack of environmental compliance certificate (ECC) and Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).
Mayor Rosento said Cuna Hotel was already given enough time to conform to the required local policies and national laws, but as of press time, it has not filed any single document for any permit.
“We have given them enough time to comply but even a single application was not filed in the LGU, ” she pointed out.
In January 2019, the municipal government sent a letter to the hotel to undertake “voluntary closure” due to its failure to adhere to permitting requirements.
The hotel management appeared at the municipal council where its representatives agreed to rectify issues concerning its sewerage treatment plant (SWP) such as constructing it along the road, it overflows wastewater and emits a foul odor.
Rosento said Cuna Hotel was given several days to initiate the repair but they were unable to meet the agreed date.
Two executive orders have already been issued by Rosento against the Cuna Hotel management to compel them to comply.
These are Executive Order (EO) 19-004 issued on January 16, 2019, ordering the temporary stoppage of its operation, and EO 19-008 dated March 8, 2019, ordering the full closure of the hotel operation.
The hotel management was able to acquire a temporary restraining order (TRO) for E0 19-004, putting on hold the temporary closure order. It, however, lapsed on February 12.
Cuna Hotel was able to get a second TRO for EO 19-008, which was received by the LGU on March 12. This again put on hold the implementation of full closure order of the LGU.
On March 8, 2019, the LGU padlocked the main entrance of the hotel following the issuance of EO 19-008 for full closure.
The operation was led by Rosento herself with other heads of offices of the local government unit. A few hours after this, staff and personnel of the Cuna Hotel cut and broke the padlock to continue operation.
“After ma-padlock, a few hours after, tinanggal nila ang padlock sa harap mismo ng police,” said municipal administrator Rene Jay de la Calzada.
On March 12, employees of the LGU apprehended a truck allegedly owned by Cuna Hotel carrying plastic drums allegedly filled with wastewater at around 1:29 a.m.
The truck was seized and is currently under the custody of the local government.
According to Sam Aterdido, one of the personnel who apprehended the truck, Cuna Hotel is dumping its wastewater in the hotel property in Barangay Villa Libertad without necessary disposal permit.
The truck used had apparently been apprehended several times for dumping wastewater without a permit.
In addition, a Cuna Hotel guest, whose name cannot be divulged for privacy purposes, had filed a complaint at the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO) as she and her husband suffered severe itchiness in the eyes and other parts of the body.
This happened on December 11, 2018. She said her husband had persistent coughing, causing them to undergo checkup in a clinic in El Nido.
The sanitary complaint document about the incident states “that the hotel acknowledged the incident and claimed that it was caused by the negligence of their maintenance staff that resulted in chlorine overdose.”
The hotel paid P76,451.18 to the complainant without necessarily admitting its fault as stated in the letter of Atty. Magnificus Canete, lawyer of the hotel to the MTO.
On the other hand, officers of the Cuna Hotel, said to Palawan News that what they are asking from the LGU of El Nido is “due process” as they cannot easily close the hotel due to guests who have booked earlier.
“Kaya gusto sana namin na makiusap na pag-usapan ng harap-harapan kasi makikinig naman po kami kung ano ang mga lapses namin,” said Rowena Aresco, one of the key officers of Cuna Hotel.
Engineer Ian Cristopher Mahinay, also of Cuna Hotel, explained that their STP is operating well during the initial stage of their operation.
They used to discharge wastewaters that are within the effluent standard of DENR to the drainage that other business establishments are also using.
But when the LGU closed the drainage, the problem began because the water can no longer flow and they needed to dispose it in the property of the hotel in Villa Libertad.
“Na close sya (drainage) bigla. So normally, mag-o-over-flow talaga. They closed it na hindi kami informed. Ang nangyari na-compromise ang efficacy ng STP,” Mahinay said.
He assured that the water effluents they are releasing to the drainage or in their area in Villa Libertad are within the standard set by the government.
Mahinay said they have been asking the LGU to help them with the disposal of their wastewater and they are willing to pay since they really need it.
“Wala na talaga kaming choice kasi sinara na and we will transport the wastewater. Wala na talaga kaming choice. Ano ang gagawin namin kasi sinara na nila?” said Aresco.
He said that the processing of their ECC has been delayed due to the resignation of a person who was in charge of the permits and licensing.
“Kasi may empleyado kami na ‘yon ang nagpa-process, nag resign kasi sya. Kung ano lang ‘yong naiwan, ‘yong lang ang sinundan namin. So late na kami na inform na ang ECC namin wala pa pala. Kaya gusto namin ma-fasttrack na,” Mahinay said.
Aresco and Mahinay said that they filed a case against Rosento because they can’t see any hope to reach out to her as they were not given the chance to explain their side.
He said that EO 19-004 was issued to them right after the technical conference in the municipal council.
“Kaya kami pumunta sa court kasi wala na talaga kaming neutral ground,” he said.
“We were given five days to transfer our guests then after five days ipa-padlock nila ang building. Doon kami nagulat,” Mahinay added.
Mahinay also clarified that they’ve been operating only for about one year and it is impossible for them to contaminate the groundwater as claimed by other nearby establishments.