El Nido is to undergo an “environmental rehabilitation” but, unlike Boracay Island, it won’t be closed to visitors during the process.
The decision was confirmed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu today (Thursday, August 1).
The secretaries of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Department of Tourism (DOT) also backed the decision at a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo.
Mr Cimatu said that together they would form an “interagency task force” to investigate and inspect establishments and “households close to the vicinity”. The task force has until August 25 to submit results of the investigation and inspection.
“The investigation will highlight the noncompliant establishments and those that violate environmental laws,” he said.
He also warned that based on the recommendation of the task force, establishments found to be violating environmental rules could face closure.
Although El Nido will remain open to tourists, swimming will be restricted in areas that have been found to have high faecal “coliform” levels.
“We will not close El Nido, but we will continue the rehabilitation by imposing a ‘No Swimming’ policy in certain parts of Bacuit Bay including the El Nido Estero Outfall, Cabugao Outfall, Masagana Outfall, and Corong-Corong Outfall,” Mr Cimatu said.
DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said tourists could still swim in the islands surrounding El Nido where coliform levels remain within acceptable limits.
As well as the high coliform levels, El Nido also faces issues including business premises encroaching onto the seafront, lack of oversight on business permits and the construction of establishments in prohibited areas such as timberlands.
“Many resorts do not have DOT accreditation. That’s illegal, and they will be closed. Many of them build on timberland, those will automatically be closed down,” Ms Puyat said.
She then blamed the former town mayor for the current situation. “It’s hard for me to believe that the previous mayor did not see all these violations,” she said.
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año echoed her complaint, and said they would hold local officials accountable for the violations.
“Yes we will file charges against them. We will see who should be held accountable. Even the barangay captains and other agencies,” he said.
The three government secretaries are preparing to visit other tourism sites including Panglao, Puerto Galera, Siargao and Coron to see if they also require rehabilitation.
Boracay was entirely closed to visitors for six months last year, after President Duterte dubbed it a “cesspool”. Despite the closure, the island is still plagued by environmental problems, such as flooding.
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