After years of battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism activities in popular tourist destination El Nido are gradually resuming, as evidenced by increased tourist arrivals.
According to Mayor Edna Lim, after the huge economic loss due to the pandemic, they have to ensure their preparedness as they started to accommodate foreign and domestic tourists.
Based on their data, she said that El Nido has recorded an average of 300 tourists daily since February this year.
“Sa ngayon ay umaabot na ng 300 per day ang local [and domestic] tourists. [Ang challenge unang-una] kailangan prepared talaga at dapat mag abide sila sa mga policy na ini-implement ng tourism,” she said.
She also saw an increase in the revenues of the town after the gradual increase in tourist arrivals.
As of March 30, the town already had 52 Department of Tourism (DOT) accredited accommodations.
Based on a previous report by Palawan News, El Nido has reached P90 million in income, but did not even make P1 million in the years 2020 and 2021.
As the pandemic became manageable, the local government of El Nido also eased requirements for the inbound tourists to town.
All tourists need to present proof of vaccination for domestic tourists or One Health Pass (OHP) for international tourists, round trip tickets, and DOT-accredited hotel bookings.
Unvaccinated and partially unvaccinated tourists must present negative RT-PCR tests 48 hours prior to departure.
Children aged 11 and under must follow the COVID-19 testing requirements of their accompanying parents/guardians when traveling.
Inbound tourists no longer need to present S-Passes as the town issued Executive Order No. 22 but was not able to implement it due to the existing alert level in the province.
“For El Nido, the S-pass category has been set to ‘unrestricted.’ S-pass account holders only need to upload valid identification for the travel permit application to proceed. Applications are instantly approved,” El Nido tourism said on its Facebook page post.
Pollution problems and STP
In 2019, former environment secretary Roy Cimatu said that some beaches in El Nido, including Barangays Masagana, Buena Suerte, Corong-Corong, and Maligaya, should not be used for swimming because of bad water quality. However, Department of Environment and Natural Resources acting secretary Jim Sampulna said that there has been a big drop in the number of fecal coliforms in Bacuit Bay.
He said it was the result of rehabilitation conducted in town, the establishment of a sewage treatment plant (STP), and the closure of establishments in El Nido due to the pandemic.
“Talagang bumababa ang coliform level sa El Nido. I cannot give you the figure [ngayon] pero bumababa,” he said.
He said that the beaches in El Nido are now safe to swim on, but they still need to keep the beach and Bacuit Bay clean.
“Swimmable na sila although hindi pa masyado dahil we still need re-engineering the mind of our people [to maintain cleanliness], kailangan pa natin ‘yan,” Sampulna said.
“Kailangan ayusin ang pag-iisip ng mga tao [when it comes to protection of the environment], maski anong masama d’yan sa dagat dahil it will only destroy the environment,” he added.
In November 2021, the provincial government and the local government of El Nido opened the STP to address the waste situation in El Nido as the sewage discharge from all establishments and residential areas goes directly to Bacuit Bay.
The provincial government also recorded around 300 to 500 establishments processing the connection to the facility.
“Doon sa Bacuit Bay na doon nagdi-dislodge may 300 nang nagapply doon pero hindi pa natin naco-connect. ‘Yong capture natin doon sa run of water, including ‘yong mga waste water ng mga squatters ay wala na ‘yon, hindi na pupunta sa Bacuit Bay,” Governor Jose Chaves Alvarez said Friday during the recognition of the DENR for the establishment of STP in El Nido.
The STP currently offers free connection services to residential and tourism-related establishments. Monthly dues for the maintenance of the plant are also temporarily free while a fix rate is under process.
“Sa ngayon wala pang collection dahil inaaral pa ang ordinance at pandemic. Pumayag naman si gov doon sa request natin na libre muna,” said mayor Lim.
She said that the municipal ordinance for the operation of the STP will still need to be finalized. Initially, 10 establishments in El Nido were already connected to STP.
Lim said that included in the ordinance is the requirement for an STP connection before the issuance of the mayor’s permit.
“Hindi magi-issue ng mayor’s permit [kung hindi sila magpaconnect sa STP]. Hindi sila bibigyan,” she said.
Violation of easement
In 2019, the government also conducted demolitions of houses and establishments for violation of the coastal easement.
Accordingly, structures should be within 20 meters of the shoreline based on Presidential Decree (PD) 1067, also known as the Water Code of the Philippines.
“Dapat ‘yan hindi na sila bumalik. Ang dapat d’yan is to free the beach by 20 meters, to free the beach from squatting. That beach suppose to be free for all, hindi sa isang pamilya lang kaya it should be malinis at free for all,” Sampulna said.
In addition, Sampulna said that studies on El Nido and Coron’s carrying capacity should be conducted to determine the allowed capacity considering the possible tourist influx.
He also emphasized that Palawan is different from Boracay, whose capacity must be monitored.
“Ang Boracay kasi ay different from [Palawan], malaking island ito but Boracay kapag nasobrahan ang carrying capacity non, baka hindi kayanin. Always remember na maraming butas ang Boracay, nakakatakot ang Boracay,” Sampulna said.
“Dito naman sa El Nido at Coron ang land mass ay malaki pero siguro kung magsobra ang carrying capacity nito ay walang magiging problema but we still have to study the carrying capacity para hindi tayo sumobra,” he added.