Puerto Galera has become the latest tourist resort to attract the scrutiny of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The department is now targeting violators of environmental laws at the Oriental Mindoro tourist town following similar crackdowns on Boracay Island and Panglao Island in Bohol province.
This brings to three the special task forces recently formed by the DENR in ‘Mimaropa’ (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) to clean up beach and tourist sites in the region.
Aside from Puerto Galera, the two other resorts on the department’s watch list in Mimaropa are El Nido and Coron, both in Palawan province.
DENR-Mimaropa director, Natividad Bernardino, said:
“It [the task force] would be for the same thing that is being done in Boracay, El Nido and Coron.”
Most commercial establishments in El Nido were found to be violating sewage and sanitation laws following an initial inspection last week.
“The disregard for environmental laws in El Nido is overwhelming,” Ms Bernardino said.
She added that the agency’s initial inspection showed that “80 per cent of establishments were found to have no wastewater discharge permits from the DENR.”
She also noted a local government report indicating that about 70 per cent of El Nido’s commercial establishments had failed to regularly empty their septic tanks.
The crackdown on beach resorts came after president Duterte referred to Boracay as a “cesspool” and threatened to shut it down unless sewage and garbage problems were resolved.
The president also warned local officials that they could be held criminally liable for the neglect.
The president is now waiting for Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu’s recommendations before taking any further action, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing yesterday (Monday, February 26).
Yesterday, the Department of Tourism imposed a six-month ban on the accreditation of establishments in Boracay “to prevent the continued harmful disposal of wastewater into the seas”.
The DENR-Mimaropa has also been inspecting resorts in El Nido and Coron in recent weeks and will do the same in Puerto Galera by next month, Ms Bernardino said.
She said the DENR was particularly concerned about sewage problems and the poor water quality in Sabang Bay and at White Beach.
Renowned for its diving spots, Sabang attracts up to to 80,000 foreign tourists per year. White Beach, at the opposite end of the town, sees up to 300,000 domestic visitors per year.
Puerto Galera Mayor Rocky Ilagan did not contest the DENR’s findings, and said the problem had persisted “over the last 10 years”.
He also said the local government had been monitoring White Beach, and found its water quality had not yet reached “an alarming level”.
“The past [local government] administration was planning to get a loan to build a sewerage treatment facility. When I assumed office I didn’t want to borrow money so we instead solicited funds from the national government,” he said.
Last year, the Department of Public Works and Highways allocated 100 million pesos to build a sewerage treatment facility in Sabang Bay.
Construction of the facility will begin in March, Mayor Ilagan said. “That’s why I’m not worried about the crackdown, because we consider this problem already addressed,” he added.