Portions of the El Nido beach in Palawan’s top tourist town had turned black after sewage water was apparently released into the sea Thursday morning.
Video footage and photos shared with Palawan News by concerned locals, who requested anonymity, showed “vile brownish-black liquid” running onto a popular tourist beach from a certain drainage system.
Municipal administrator Raffy Cabate, however, denied that the incident happened and claimed that the photos and videos shared on social media were “reposted from last year”.
“It was a repost from last year. We will call whoever reposted it and be subjected to investigation. If found intentional, we will recommend for issuance of municipal council resolution as economic sabotage. (Repost lang man daw ‘yon ng nangyari pa last year. Ipapatawag din namin ang nagre-post na ‘yon to subject for investigation. If found to be intentional, ipapasa namin sa municipal council for further query and investigation, and recommend for issuance of resolution as economic sabotage),” said Cabate in a text message to Palawan News when sought for a statement.
The photos and videos in question, however, were shared with Palawan News based on a community inspection that transpired Thursday morning.
Raul Maximo, municipal environment and natural resources officer (MENRO), in a separate phone interview on Thursday, supported Cabate’s statement and said that an ocular inspection was undertaken by the local officials merely minutes after the photos and videos surfaced online.
Maximo also said that Tourism secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat is set to arrive in the globally-renowned tourist destination on Friday (October 22) to inspect the readiness of El Nido as it reopened its doors to Palawan-based travelers on September 30.
Rebranded as “Our Safe Haven”, the town has reopened its tourism industry for local travelers on September 30, after visitors were barred when the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic struck in March.
Sewage Treatment Plant
The sewage treatment plant (STP) project in El Nido that will remove municipal wastewater contaminants is expected to be operational by October 2020, the provincial government has assured in an earlier report.
Maximo said that the centralized STP project located at Sitio Batbat, Barangay Villa Libertad in El Nido is now at around 90 percent completion, claiming that the brownish-black wastewater after treatment would result in almost pristine water “without bad smell”.
The P520.8 million STP project was jointly shouldered by the provincial government and El Nido municipal government through loans. The project was started during the incumbency of former mayor Nieves Rosento and continued in the term of mayor Edna Lim.
Since last year, “extensive programs” have been lined up for El Nido’s rehabilitation including re-walling of the Buena Suerte creek, identification of new sanitary landfill, construction of collection tank for wastewater, and installation of sewage treatment plant facility.
Planned to be operated using alternative sources of energy such as biogas and solar, the initial phase of the STP project was implemented in August 2018, utilizing P264.6 million. Of the total amount, P191 million came from the El Nido municipal government through a loan availed from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
The provincial government’s share is P64.74 million worth of free technical services and heavy equipment utilization, P8.87 million for land acquisition, and P256 million for Phase 1 and Phase 2, pegged in total of P329.8 million.
Yuki Thomas Dunn, one of the partners of Outpost Beach Hostel, a business establishment in El Nido, in a separate phone interview, said he was “extremely frustrated” with the recent photos and videos that surfaced online, but confirmed that certain private owners have also taken an active step towards establishing sewage treatment plant (STP) for the benefit of the community, the tourists, and the environment.
“It put us in a bad light but at the same time it was a wake-up call,” Dunn explained as he recalled the “extreme effort” for private individuals to ensure that STPs were complied with based on the order issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in view of the El Nido rehabilitation project undertaken by the national government in November 2018.
In April 2019, Outpost Beach Hostel was flagged by the DENR regional office after a PVC pipeline was allegedly illegally installed within the town’s declared water easement zone. The Central and MIMAROPA Regional offices of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau detected through the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey conducted by the pipeline measuring six inches in diameter and six meters in length were found discharging black and foul-smelling liquid directly into Bacuit Bay, one of the province’s ecotourism sites undergoing massive rehabilitation.
On September 30, the municipal government, through executive (EO) 2020-079, announced that Palawan-based tourists, both foreign and local, were allowed to travel to popular destinations in El Nido, an international destination hailed by several reputable tourism magazines as one of the top island destinations in the world.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, in an earlier statement, clarified that El Nido Resorts is the only establishment on the island which allows tourists from general community quarantine areas (GCQ) like Metro Manila since its soft reopening in July anchored on the “tourism bubble” setup.
As of October 22, El Nido town has only recorded two COVID-19 cases, both asymptomatic patients had travel history in Luzon but were recovered days after their isolation. The provincial health office also said that there is no local transmission of the highly infectious virus in the municipality, making the popular tourism destination safe for travel.
Tourists would be required to undergo the usual mandatory health checks and were asked to comply with the government’s minimum public health and safety standards.