Business establishments and homes occupying the no-build zone in Coron Bay. (Photo courtesy of PIA)

Coron Mayor Ajerico Barracoso on Tuesday appealed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to set aside its planned crackdown on hundreds of commercial establishments and residences it previously cited for coastal easement violations.

Appearing during the Palawan provincial board’s Question Hour session, Barracoso sought clarification with the DENR on the conflict between the Water Code which calls for a 40-meter coastal easement for timberland areas and Republic Act 7611 which he said allowed for the occupation of areas beyond three meters from the high tide line.

“Sana masagot kung ano ang susundin namin, ‘yong 40 meters ba o ‘yong sa SEP. Kung ‘yong 40 meters po ay maawa naman kayo. D’yan nagkakaproblema kasi nga we have our special law na hindi applicable sa gusto ng DENR. Sabi ni DENR ganito, sabi naman ni SEP ito ang tama,” Barracoso said.

The DENR had issued notices of violations to some 414 establishments in Coron, mostly catering to the town’s booming tourism sector. Many of the establishments had been built atop the water or right along the town’s coastal edges.

The Philippine Water Codes provides for a 40-meter easement on areas classified as timberland, which the DENR said is still the existing land classification of most of Coron’s commercially-developed areas.

Barracoso said if the 40-meter easement is implemented, a lot of business establishments will be affected and the local population’s main source of livelihood.

The 40 meters easement, Barracoso insisted, is no longer applicable to their situation in Coron because of the SEP law that allowed establishments three meters away from the highest tide.

Board member Cherry Pie Acosta urged the Coron municipal council to pass a resolution requesting the DENR to set aside its planned demolition activity.

“Status quo muna, wala munang demolition sana to give time sa mga establishments to comply their requirements and other documents,” Barracoso said.

Barracoso pointed out that most of the establishments issued with notices to vacate have already secured their permits, including Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs) from the DENR, while some are waiting for their Forest Land Use Agreement for Tourism (FLAgT).

“Hopefully, makapag-reply na ang DENR sa kanila kasi ‘yong FLAgT na lang ang kulang sa mga permits. Isa pa, after the issuance of notices to vacate, these affected establishments sent their replies to the DENR, explaining na kumpleto na ang permits and ‘yong pinagtatayuan ng building nila based sa SEP. Hanggang ngayon wala pang sagot pero ang sabi ko sa kanila i-follow-up ninyo lang sa DENR,” he explained.

Councilor Michael Sadhwani, chair of the Coron municipal council’s tourism committee, also said the issue with the DENR did not only affect the existing business establishments but also the investors eyeing the town.

“Self-sustaining ang Coron due to the tourism industry but with the problem in DENR, a lot of the investors did not proceed in doing their projects. Marami d’yan ang nakabili na ng mga lupa pero hindi na tinuloy ang mga plano nilang magpatayo ng mga hotels dahil sa issue na ‘to,” he said.

Meanwhile, board member Roseller Pineda said the PB will request to meet DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu in his office to discuss the matter to come up with a win-win solution.

“If we will be given the chance na pasyalan ang opisina ni Sec. Cimatu mas maganda para mai-present natin ang mga gusto natin na mangyari at para ma-save ang Coron mula sa sitwasyon (… it would be better so we could present what we want to happen and to save Coron from the situation),” Pineda said.

Last week, officer-in-charge Felizardo Cayatoc of the local DENR office, warned environmental law violators in Coron that their town is next in their crackdown target this year.

Cayatoc said establishments in Coron are still not compliant and that the municipal government has not done anything yet to demolish them out of the easement zone.

Barracoso and Sadhwani were at the regular session of the provincial board on the invitation of its members who wish to know about Coron’s compliance regarding the easement zone.