GETTING TOURISM MANAGEMENT BETTER IN EL NIDO
Aerial shot of the entrance to the Big Lagoon in Miniloc Island, Bacuit Bay, El Nido, northern Palawan. (Photo courtesy of El Nido Boutique Artcafe)
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – The municipal government of El Nido is preparing to amend its tourism code in a bid to be more environmental law-compliant and properly guided in the correct manner of conducting tourism operations and activities.
Mayor Nieves Rosento said their tourism code needs to be updated, noting that times have changed, and a lot of developments have already happened in their town.
But while proposed amendments are still being prepared, Rosento said they have started passing resolutions and ordinances that would ensure the long-term commitment and development of El Nido's tourism industry.
"Yes, it's included. It's already being prepared for the amendment because a lot has changed in El Nido. It is no longer relevant in this present time. So, about the tourism code amendment, it's now in progress," she said in the local vernacular.
Rosento said one of the new policies is the boat management, splitting of tours, and their rates under Municipal Ordinance No. 101, Series of 2018, amending Section 5 of Municipal Ordinance No. 010, Series of 2013.
"What we amended recently is the boat management, the splitting of tours, and the rates. The Big and Small Lagoons used to be together in Tour A, but now we have separated them under the boat management ordinance," she said.
The two lagoons and the secret lagoon, which used to be offered as tours under Tour A, have now been separated under the ordinance that was approved in a special session of the municipal council on Nov. 27 led by Vice Mayor Leonor Corral.
Section 5 said Tour A which costs PHP1,200 per person with a tour guide, food, and purified water, will now bring visitors to Big Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Payong-Payong, Secret Lagoon, and Seven Commando Island.
The Small Lagoon has been transferred to Tour D along with Bacuit Bay sites like Nat-nat Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan Cove, Paradise Beach, and Ipil Beach. The tour used to include Bukal Beach.
"We separated them to address the issue of carrying capacity. We need to split them, and what we're waiting for is to adopt the carrying capacity. If the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has confirmed this and it has done its assessment, we will be able to move already," Rosento said.
She said they are waiting for what the DENR will say about the carrying capacity because they fear they will increase the influx in other tour sites in the bay.
"This is our worry that's why we first amended the ordinance on regulating boat management. We separated the two most visited lagoons," she added.
The new ordinance took effect on Saturday, Dec. 1, said Carolyn Esmenda, the assistant protected area superintendent (PASu) in El Nido.
She said splitting the two lagoons into different tour packages means they can no longer be visited on the same day to avoid overcrowding.
“Tour operators, tour boats and tour guides who will be proven to have deliberately violated the policies within the protected area will be denied dispatch by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) until their cases have been resolved/cleared with the protected area office (PAO),” Esmenda said.
A PHP200 environmental user fee (EUF) each will be imposed on visitors going to Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon which will go to the Integrated Protected Area Fund (IPAF) and will be utilized solely for the conservation and management activities of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA) in Bacuit Bay.
“The environmental user fee is non-refundable except on force majeure situations like the cancellation of tours by the Philippine Coast Guard due to the inclement weather," Esmenda said.
In addition, the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) will be strict too "on the wearing of life jackets on tours; no loud sounds and no cliff jumping in the lagoon tours; no grilling, no throwing of food scraps/leftovers in the water, no stepping on corrals in Bacuit Bay; and no smoking, no alcohol drinks, no vendors in the vicinity of the lagoons, among others."
Rosento said one of the guidelines that the Department of Tourism (DOT) wants to be imposed in El Nido is limiting the number of visitors and tour boats that enter the Big Lagoon to prevent the destruction of its ecosystem.
On Nov. 8, the first dry run for crowd control was done with the help of the DENR's Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), other line agencies, and stakeholders, she said.
Only 60 visitors and 30 kayaks per hour (480 pax per eight hours/240 kayaks) were allowed to gain entry in the Big Lagoon from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the Small Lagoon, only 30 visitors and 15 kayaks (240 pax per eight hours/120 kayaks) were permitted to enter also from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Pablo Cruz, chief of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in the town and the designated protected area superintendent of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA), said no tour boat was allowed to drop anchor near the entrances of the Big and Small Lagoons.
“Wala ng papayagang tour boats na mag-aangkla malapit sa Small Lagoon kasi maliit nga ang area. Sa Big Lagoon naman, hindi papayagan na pumasok ang mga tour boats para hindi overcrowded sa loob (No tour boat will be allowed to drop anchor outside the entrance of the Small Lagoon because the area is small. In the Big Lagoon, tour boats will no longer be allowed entry inside to prevent it from overcrowding),” he said earlier.
Cruz further said the results of the dry run have been promising to address the issue of "overcrowding" that DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat had observed during a visit in September.
He noted that even the tourists who participated in the dry run favored the smooth operation of entry in the lagoons.
“So far ay maganda naman ang mga naging resulta. Maayos ang flow nang touring sa loob at nakita na maluwag lalo na sa Big Lagoon noong di muna pinayagang pumasok ang mga bangka (So far, the results are good. The flow of touring inside is no longer problematic especially in the Big Lagoon when the tour boats were banned from entering),” he said.
Cruz further said the PAMB already has a resolution on this which needs the backing of an ordinance from the municipal council.
As of Nov. 27, 2018, an estimated 59,227 foreign and 44,074 domestic travelers (103,301 total) have already visited El Nido, according to a record provided by its municipal tourism office (MTO).
Of the total figure, the most number of travelers, or 26,454, are from Europe with France contributing the highest at 5,116. This was followed by the United Kingdom with 3,629; Spain with 3,525; and Germany with 2,269.
The second highest tourist arrival is from Asia at 11,952, with China contributing the largest number of visitors at 3,573 followed by Japan with 1,812 and South Korea with 1,643.
In 2017, El Nido posted a tourist arrival of 144,257.
No ECC, no business permit
Rosento said another policy that will now be implemented in El Nido to ensure environmental law compliance is the "no environmental clearance certificate (ECC), no business permit", which infuriates business owners in the town.
She said the matter had been discussed with DENR regional director Henry Adornado who will send a team to El Nido to help explain to business owners how the procedure will go.
"The DENR said the holders of the certificate of non-coverage will not go through the regular process... It's like conversion from CNC to ECC and they have to also comply parameters on wastewater analysis, clean water act, and also the easement," Rosento said.
FROM RIGHT: El Nido Mayor Nieves Rosento, DILG Sec. Eduardo Año, DOT Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu walk on the beach to conduct a site inspection of the easement zone compliance on Nov. 28, 2018. In this area, of the 32 easement violators, only one structure is currently being demolished. (Photo by Celeste Anna R. Formoso)
Rosento explained further this will already be the new policy on the issuance of business permits set forth on them by the DENR.
"Imposing this is now our concern in El Nido. But they will not go through the regular ECC process like other big investments -- this is a conversion from CNC to ECC. It's really going to be the policy now -- no ECC, no business permit," she said.
Last week, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año, and Puyat went to El Nido to conduct a site inspection.
Cimatu said there will be "no closure" of the town's tourism operations, but a six-month immediate rehabilitation should be done compliant to environmental laws on wastewater management, clean air act, and easement zone.
One of the areas where the rehabilitation will focus on is Barangay Buena Suerte, where the municipality's main outfall is located to empty sewer contents in Bacuit Bay. The area's beach will be closed for swimming. (PNA)