EDITORIAL – Bite the bullet, El Nido

There is tepid resistance among major tourism stakeholders in El Nido to go along with Malacañang’s radical approach to governance and implementation of laws that apply to coastal easement and setback, and of business regulations and permits. That is understandable because the immediate implication of embracing the solutions being imposed by the national administration will hurt the bottom line.

The problems of El Nido have long been acknowledged by its stakeholders long before President Duterte blew like a typhoon over Boracay and threatened to close it down in six months. His fit of anger about Boracay’s sewage and pollution issues rattled similarly situated areas in the country like Bohol, Siargao, Coron, El Nido and even the Underground River, with environment secretary Roy Cimatu amplifying his message and creating task forces all over.

This week, it was presidential spokesman Harry Roque who pressed the ball harder when he visited the city, warning local governments they will face sanctions if they did not act decisively and demolish the structures that propped up like mushrooms beyond the coastal salvage zone.

The Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) of El Nido had previously imposed limits on tours to the town’s most visited island attractions, with the end in view of minimizing the impact of the growing burden of tourists rampaging around town. Both the municipal government and the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have engaged commercial establishments in dialogues to find immediate and long term solutions to problems such as drainage and sewage, overcrowding, water quality deterioration, among others.

The local government has brokered some kind of an agreement with the establishments found in violation of the easement zone to self-demolish within a grace period of several years, with the apparent intention of minimizing the discomfort on the part of the affected businesses.

Meanwhile, the tourists have been coming in droves, at a rate of about 30 percent increase every year. The cash registers have kept ringing as the town hummed and buzzed all night when everyone gathered to relax in bars and restaurants after the day’s scenic tours. El Nido never had it so good. The place was no longer the sleepy town of eons ago, when the beaches of Bacquit Bay was perfectly coved in white sand and the only odd sight one saw was a handful of European backpackers on low budget.

There is no denying the fact that a business as usual scenario in El Nido, as it is in Coron, is not a sustainable model for tourism development, where environmental safety regulations are ignored or are not strictly implemented. Much of the blame lies on the previous administrations that allowed this system to take root. A bigger share of the burden lies on the shoulders of incumbent local officials whose supposed task is to undo these problems.

It looks like this problem won’t simply blow away for El Nido, at least not while Duterte is on a continuing rant about it. The town’s stakeholders, including primarily the local government units, are left with few choices but to follow the president’s tempo and massage his temper. Coron is also best advised to start figuring out how they will take the bitter pill.

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