(File photo)

The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recommended the extension of the “swimming ban” it previously ordered in Brgy. Buena Suerte to three more villages facing Bacuit Bay in El Nido, including the strict prohibition of waste oil dumping from motorboats in the sea.

Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) acting chief Raffy Cabate said this Friday, clarifying that they have not received any guidance from the DENR in MIMAROPA that El Nido’s tourism operations will be recommended closed, especially in Bacuit Bay where island destinations are located.

He said the “no swimming” that was implemented in Buena Suerte in 2018 by the national inter-agency task force will be extended to Brgys. Masagana, Corong-Corong, and Maligaya under the “selective/clustered closure in El Nido” advice by the regional DENR due to the recurring problem of coliform contamination.

Maligaya is not a coastal barangay but Cabate said it has a tidal channel that is also used as a drainage canal.

These four areas, he said, are where the outfalls that discharge wastewater are located.

“Ang ibig sabihin nito selective clustered closure but only in four poblacion barangays. Ito ay may kaugnayan pa rin doon sa outfall sa wastewater kasi ang usapan noon ay no swimming activity na nauna na doon sa Buena Suerte. Wala namang recommendation na iclo-close ang buong Bacuit Bay kasi andoon ang mga island tourism activities natin,” Cabate told Palawan News in a phone interview.

He said the recommendations were issued to Mayor Edna Lim through a memorandum order sent from the office of DENR MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado on July 16, 2019.

Cabate reiterated that the regional DENR memorandum order did not mention anything about the closure of Bacuit Bay, the inlet that holds El Nido’s prime tourist destinations.

“So far, wala namang ganoong nirerekomenda dito sa mga nabanggit sa memorandum order. Sa apat na barangay lang ‘yon ngang strictly no swimming at ‘yong pag-discharge ng used oil sa dagat dahil na-observe nga ‘yon ni USec. (Epimaco) Densing ng DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government),” he pointed out.

Cabate said they are now establishing the parameters for the implementation of the no swimming ban and the no dumping of used oil in the four poblacion barangays.

He said Mayor Lim will issue these conditions as a set of policy through an executive order.

“Gagawaan na namin ito talaga ngayon ng executive order — ‘yong no swimming policy. ‘Yong sinasabing isasara at walang tourism activity, mali naman ‘yon. Ang ibig sabihin kung ganoon wala ng bangkang tatakbo sa dagat? Hindi naman ganoon. Ang nakalagay lang doon dapat mag-set kami ng parameters at mag-define para ma-strictly enforce ang mga ito,” Cabate said.

On waste oil discharge, Cabate said the municipal government will closely monitor all types of motorboats to prevent this problem from persisting.

He said the municipal government will establish a policy on the collection of used oil from the motorboats to store them in a treatment facility that will be constructed in their landfill area.

“Dapat lahat ng mga bangka walang maglilimas ng langis, walang magtatapon ng basura. Dapat mag-i-install na sila ng kanilang tangke para sa human waste at hindi na dapat idederetsong shoot lang sa dagat. Yan ‘yong mga ilalagay namin sa parameters. Ibig sabihin nyan tutulong kami sa paglilimas. Kukunin namin ‘yan, gagawa kami doon sa aming landfill ng isang tangke na para dyan,” he said.

He said when the water has been separated from the oil, they will recover the quantity and will look for an “accredited treater and transporter” in Manila.

Cabate said the regional DENR has also advised the “re-walling” of El Nido’s natural water drainages or outfalls while waiting for the completion of the sewage treatment plant (STP).

He said this was also discussed with Densing when he went to visit their town some time ago.

“Ito na rin ang isa sa mga pinaplano namin na gawin kasi nga outfalls ‘yon. Nagpla-plano na kami kung paanong gagawin para talaga mapigilan ang wastewater na hindi treated para magpunta ng dagat,” he said.

The DILG team had apparently discovered during its earlier assessment that some businesses and residents drilled holes to the waterways to connect their wastewater facilities.

Cabate added they are also set to implement the three-meter easement zone from the waterways but would need to assess how many business and residential structures will be affected.

“‘Yong mga tao binutas nila ‘yon para makonek nila ‘yong wastewater facilities nila. Kasi ‘yong mga ‘yon parang asintada lang ng mga hollowblocks so malambot na. So we decided na ang re-walling ay gagawin naming buhos na — matibay na semento as a short term solution habang ginagawa itong STP,” he said.

On the P245 million centralized STP, Cabate explained that the construction had encountered unexpected drawbacks, including its first contractor backing out due to the “complexity of the project”.

Phase 1 was supposed to be completed by this month, but the deadline was moved to December this year. However, the contractor declined to move the project to Phase 2 because of “certain considerations” which he did not elaborate.

The STP is under the joint management of El Nido and the provincial government through a loan with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

“Nakita nila ang daming considerations na parang ang hirap patakbuhin kaya naghanap nanaman ng bagong kontraktor. Natengga nanaman. ‘Yong mga cluster tanks napuno ng tubig, ‘yong iba tumagilid na — sumatotal ay marami pang gagawin ulit. Kaya kami may re-walling para maka-catch up,” Cabate said.

The latest they have been told by the new contractor of the province is that the STP would take 700 days or around two years to complete along with the water system project.

In a separate interview on Wednesday, regional director Danilo Intong of the Department of Tourism (DOT) also said no recommendation has been made by the regional and the national inter-agency task force regarding the closure of tourism operations in El Nido.

“‘Yong sinabi ng DILG, I think it was just recommending, not really deciding on the closure. Syempre that was based on ‘yong assessment nila. Pero wala pa naman ngang recommendation kasi mag-uusap pa rin ang regional [inter-agency] task force. Although nag-meeting na, pero hindi naman kwan ‘yan kasi pag-uusapan pa ng maigi,” Intong said.

He said if there would be a decision for the closure of El Nido, it will come from the national government task force led by DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu.

Intong said that since there is now a new administration in El Nido, more meetings and discussions will have to be done to fully determine developments or setbacks in environmental rehabilitation.

“Decisions will not come from anyone except our principal offices,” he said.

But personally, Intong said there is a need for Lim to sit down with the regional directors of the agencies involved to discuss the rehabilitation of El Nido whose six-month deadline had already ended a couple of months ago.

If Lim is asking for an extension, he said she should be able to present basis supported by facts so the task force can consider them.

“Kung ipapakiusap niya ang extension, ano ang basehan niya ng extension? Dapat ma-ga-gauge ‘yan. May mga considerations din na titingnan so we have to look into that. Hindi naman talaga siya bago sa El Nido kasi taga-dyan siya. Dapat sa number of days na umupo na siya, ‘yang dapat problema na ‘yan ang tiningnan,” he said.

Previous articleCity PNP mobile force undergoes pistol marksmanship refresher course
Next articleLalaki, tinaga sa San Manuel
has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.