EDITORIAL: El Nido’s Rehabilitation

The closure of Boracay early this year on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte in the wake of its serious environmental degradation has served as a template on how the national government today addresses similar, albeit unique, situations of other major tourist attractions like El Nido and Coron.

It was apparent even in the case of Boracay that the main line agencies involved— the environment and tourism departments — had been caught unprepared on how to implement the president’s orders, fired straight from the hip as it was. They had to improvise and produce results and somehow managed to scramble a plan to get the island re-opened to the public recently.

Immediately upon the closure of Boracay, El Nido became the next focus of attention with the DENR taking the lead on the demolition of commercial establishments illegally encroaching into the 3-meter coastal easement of Bacuit Bay. Overall since the start of the crackdown, the DENR has issued over 400 notices of violation against commercial establishments around town.

The DENR as lead agency in this ongoing crackdown has recently redeployed to El Nido what Secretary Roy Cimatu said was the same set of technical personnel who oversaw Boracay’s rehabilitation. He said this during a quick visit to El Nido this week.

Much like how they were doing it in Boracay, El Nido’s rehabilitation efforts have been knee-jerk at best. This is understandable because of the speed by which all the government agencies concerned have mainly focused on producing tangible results to show to the president and to Malacanang.

This is not to say that the demolition campaign is wrong — it is perhaps a necessary solution, more like a triage approach to addressing the pressing problem of beach overcrowding and sea water pollution. What is missing is a strategic approach to rehabilitating El Nido and rooting out the very problems that hinder its sustainable growth.

The ideal solution would have started with a deeper understanding of El Nido’s environmental problems and management systems. A more comprehensive assessment of the problem would have informed the best possible solutions. While triage is necessary to stop the El Nido’s bleeding, a proper diagnosis is needed to address its deeply rooted problems such as weak environmental compliance.

Significantly, it appears that the important bodies such as the protected area management board of El Nido-Taytay do not play any significant role in this ongoing rehabilitation, which may as well be described as a parachute approach to protected area management. That may or may not bring good results, as even Boracay is yet to find out.

El Nido is a protected area, unlike Boracay, it has unique institutional systems that are supposed to be in place to address all management challenges. But since it has been obviously unable to decisively resolve real problems such as environmental compliance of many business establishments, it is either that the protected area management system is ineffective or its implementation had been deficient.

The DENR has now declared a six-month period rehabilitation of El Nido. It provides for a specific timeline reference that President Duterte specifically wanted to see. But it is also apparent that there are no clear plans still in place what can be done in six months and whether these are all the necessary interventions that need to be conducted.

The DENR and the rest of El Nido’s stakeholders have largely been playing this by ear. For local businesses, it is a relief that the town will not be closed as was done in Boracay. They can only hope that along the way in the next six months, everyone can be on the same page on what the fundamental problems of El Nido really are and what efffectie solutions should be in place.

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