DENR to remove illegal structures in Coron Bay

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – The crackdown on erring tourism establishments in Palawan continues, with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shifting its focus on Coron town.

Natividad Bernardino, regional director of the DENR Mimaropa, recently created the Task Force Coron to inspect more than 750 establishments for compliance to environmental regulations, easement zone provisions of the Clean Water Act, Water Code, and Forestry Code.

Since the inspection began last week, the task force has already found rampant cases of coastal easement violations of tourism establishments and unrestrained squatting on the foreshore of Coron Bay.

“They should be held accountable for all of their violations,” Bernardino said in a phone interview Thursday, March 15.

Initially, she detailed that 8 hotels, restaurants, and dive shops were built atop stilts in Coron Bay, a violation of the coastal easement rule.

Coron’s iconic islands, lakes, and rich marine resources draw more than 175,000 tourists annually. This has increased the demand for hotels, restaurants, and other services, exerting pressure on this small town’s ecosystem.

“Around 100 establishments are located in the coastal area, but we can’t give the exact figure of violators since the inspection is still ongoing,” she said.

In a stakeholders’ forum here on Tuesday, March 13, Bernardino told 250 business owners about the need to dismantle the illegal structures, specifically those built either on the water or encroaching on easement zones and mangroves, to keep the ecological integrity of the bay.

Recognizing the growing environmental problems and their potential impact on them, business owners expressed willingness to cooperate with the clean-up of Coron Bay, Bernardino said.

This recent move of the DENR is part of its campaign to address water pollution and other environmental problems in popular tourist destinations. On Monday, March 12, it served eviction notices to 32 business establishments encroaching on coastal easement zone in El Nido.

For Coron, Bernardino said they will start to issue violation and eviction notices in April, once they completed the environmental compliance inspection before the Holy Week this month.

Decongestion efforts

Meanwhile, the DENR Mimaropa has recommended the removal of 4,000 informal settlers in the town’s coastal areas. “We need to decongest Coron Bay and ensure compliance with environmental regulations,” Bernardino said.

Rehabilitating the bay, however, may be difficult as the settlers need relocation before their homes can be demolished, she added.

Bernardino has appealed to the provincial and municipal government to fast-track the provision of “resettlement for the informal settlers, who were previously identified as beneficiaries of the typhoon Yolanda relocation program.”

In February, the National Housing Authority identified 7 initial sites in 3 municipalities in Palawan for the long overdue Yolanda Housing Program of the provincial government in Barangays Guadalupe and Tagumpay in this town, with 4,500 housing units.

Bernardino also said the absence of a centralized sewage treatment facility led to the deterioration of water quality in Coron Bay. She said that establishments discharge untreated wastewater, while informal settlers dispose all their wastes directly into the bay.

“The local government unit has to play a big part in doing something about the problem here,” Bernardino said.

Coron Mayor Ajerico Barracoso said the municipal government has submitted a proposal to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority to fund the town’s planned P450-million centralized sewage treatment plant.

“We hope they can help us just like how they’ve helped Boracay,” Barracoso said in an interview on Thursday.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said it will now require all tourist establishments to have proper wastewater discharge facilities before they can get DOT accreditation.

“If we don’t take care of our destination, tourists won’t be happy visiting here,” DOT Regional Director Maria Luisa Diploma said during the stakeholders’ forum in Coron.

As an interim measure, Bernardino urged individual businesses to set up their own sewage treatment facility, or to enter into an agreement with companies that can provide desludging and sewage treatment services.

Bernardino said another source of pollutants they have to look into are tourist and passenger boats emitting oil into the water. – Rappler.com

Photo of Coron port from Wikimedia Commons