Wanda Teo warns Coron execs, tour operators over oil leak issue

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo warned officials and tourism establishments in Coron that they should address the alleged practice of local tourist boats dumping fuel discharge in the ocean near the world-famous town's beaches before the issue reaches President Rodrigo Duterte.

Citing Coron alongside Siargao Island, which her office had found to have a problem on improper waste disposal, Teo said she would alert the President on the matter.

“Let this be a wake-up call to the local government officials, business establishments and tourist operators in the Islands of Siargao and Coron, that this administration is very much concerned on taking care of the environment promoting world-class tourism destinations,” she said in a statement.

Teo issued the warning came after Duterte threatened to close down Boracay because of its increasing water pollution problem linked to its sewage management.

Eriberto Santos, chief of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) Coron, said they were informed by the regional tourism office about the incident as early as last week of January. 

“Oil leaks are coming from the change oil activities of tourist motor boats plying in Coron Bay,” Santos said in a phone interview on Friday, February. 16.

The report, he said, was confirmed by the Philippine Coast Guard’s Marine Environmental Protection Unit (PCG MEPEU) officer in Coron.

Coron Mayor Ajerico Barracoso, however, said the oil leak observed in the bay was an "isolated case," though he agreed that it warranted attention from the municipal government. 

"I don't see it (Teo's statement) as a threat but it's good that we're reminded of our responsibility to take care of our pristine marine environment," Barracoso said in a separate interview on Saturday, February 17. 

Santos said his office held a stakeholders' collaborative meeting last week with the town mayor and representatives from the concerned municipal government offices, Philippine Ports Authority, PCG Auxiliary, Coron Tours and Boat Association, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff. 

“The objective of this meeting was to come up with collaborative preventive measures in protecting the coastal waters of Coron which gives environmental benefits to the locality,” he said.

The PCG has committed to put up a used oil collection facility to contain used oil from the tourist boats, according to Santos.

“There’s already a budget. But what’s lacking is the land for the facility,” he said.

Santos said it was agreed that the municipal government will request the provincial government to allot a space at the reclamation area in town for this end.

For the temporary storage, the CENRO chief said they will solicit  20 drums to be placed in the respective barangay hall of Barangays 1, 3, 5, and Tagumpay where boat operators can dispose their used oil.

“We will ask the Calamian Islands Power Corporation to collect the drums of used oil for storage in their compound and possible treatment by its hired registered or accredited hazardous waste transporters and treaters,” he said.

Meanwhile, Provincial Environmental Management Unit chief Alex Coden said his field staff in Coron conducts quarterly water monitoring to ensure the water quality in town.

“Since Coron is declared as a water quality management area, regularly we get samples there to determine the water quality,” Coden said on Friday.

Coden said his field staff directly sends the monitoring results to the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau. 

Barracoso said the municipal government conducts information campaigns among boat operators on proper waste disposal almost every month. 

"In fact, as early as 1993, we already have ordinances particularly prohibiting the discharge of fuel into the waters and we make sure it is well-implemented," the mayor said. – Rappler.com