After criticism, no more balloon releasing in next Mimaropa Festival

PALAWAN, Philippines – After receiving flak from a zero waste advocacy group, Department of Tourism (DOT) regional officials vowed there would be no more balloon releasing activity in next year's Mimaropa Festival.

DOT Mimaropa Regional Director Maria Luisa Diploma said the concern raised by EcoWaste Coalition will be part of the report on the recently concluded 4th Mimaropa Festival, which she will be presenting during the Regional Development Council (RDC) meeting in December.

"During that meeting, I will mention this issue so that everybody also within the council, whether it is the Mimaropa Festival or other activities they have, they will be aware of that," Diploma told Rappler in a phone interview on Sunday, November 18.

EcoWaste Coalition campaigner Daniel Alejandre recently slammed the balloon releasing activity that signaled the festival's opening last Thursday, November 15, in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro.

"While it may provide spectators a few seconds of fun and cheer, releasing balloons into the air is no laughing matter, especially for marine animals who bear the brunt of this wasteful practice," Alejandre told Rappler through email on Saturday, November 17.

Alejandre explained that fish, turtles, and birds may mistakenly eat remnants of a balloon, which could block their digestive system, leading to hunger or even death. Sea turtles, in particular, may also die if they become entangled in balloon strings that end up in the ocean.

"The released balloons will take 6 months to 4 years to break down and can cause a lot of harm to aquatic creatures before they finally disintegrate," Alejandre said.

Diploma admitted that it's only now she's been made aware of the environmental impact of releasing balloons. She said she discussed the issue with Mamburao Mayor Angelina Tria, whose town hosted this year's festival which ended on Saturday.

"With regards to Mr Alejandre's statement, there is no objection to what he said. We really accept his statement [pointing out] that action was harmful to the environment. We thank him for bringing this to our attention," said Diploma.

The regional tourism chief added that EcoWaste Coalition's suggestions to opt for eco-friendly alternatives such as beating drums and ringing bells are "well-taken."

"We also discussed with the mayor to really avoid the use of balloons when they have activities in the future," she said. "I think it's also an eye-opener. It's about time really that we look for other ways to celebrate whenever there are ceremonies."

The next host of the Mimaropa Festival will be named in the upcoming RDC meeting.

"We'll make sure we will review what goes into the activities, what are the materials that they will be using to avoid really such an incident again," Diploma added.

The Mimaropa Festival is an annual activity that aims to celebrate and promote the region's tourism industry. – Rappler.com