It’s good that Palawan’s tourism destinations have not been closed, like Boracay’s, during the governmentmandated environmental rehabilitation. I will now explain why, using El Nido and Coron, Palawan’s top tourism towns, as examples. I will then elaborate on what most important rehabilitation measure keeps getting overlooked nationwide.
Even though El Nido and Coron now suffer from the same problems as Boracay did (overcrowding, encroachment, sewage and marine pollution), the national government’s approach to rehabilitating El Nido and Coron is much different. Instead of totally closing the towns to tourism, the offending businesses were given a choice to either fix their problems or risk temporary closure.
Positive results in El Nido are already obvious even to the naked eye. The vast majority of encroaching establishments have either self-demolished, or are in the process of doing so. Non-compliant ones are closed. Big and Small Lagoons are not as crowded, due to the imposed visitor limits. Corong-Corong beach no longer looks like a dump.
Of course, there are still problems in both El Nido and Coron. Tourist boats pumping out oil/water mixture and the sea is still dirty in some places. Sewage. Nauseating exhaust from tourist boats.
But, when you balance the positive results already achieved in El Nido against the problems still to be resolved, it is clear that El Nido’s approach to rehabilitation is better than the Boracay-style total closure. Here is why.
1. It doesn’t cost taxpayers nearly as much.
2. Only the violators are punished. They have to spend their own money to fix their own problems.
3. Non-offending establishments receive extra business while their offending competitors are either closed or too busy fixing their problems.
4. Numerous poor families that rely on tourism as main source of income are not displaced.
5. There is no widespread atmosphere of despair and uncertainty like I witnessed in Boracay during its closure after having received a permit to visit.
6. Public gets an impression that this time the government actually thinks and formulates a plan before acting.
7. Tourists still get to enjoy the place, government continues receiving tourism revenue.
However, I think the most important rehabilitation measure still has not been implemented anywhere in the Philippines. I think the most effective measure to fight social ills in this country would be to increase the transparency of accounting of public funds. Every citizen should be able to see online exactly where their money went. Then, many environmental and other problems would start disappearing by themselves.
I’ve been to dozens of tourist sites in the Philippines, some of the most gorgeous places in the world that I’ll never forget. But not everything there is breathtakingly beautiful. There are oil spills in violation of international agreements against marine pollution and all of the other problems cited by the DOT. All of that, naturally, got me wondering where did all those “environmental fees” that we, tourists, pay go?
I’ve researched. Turns out, that information is very difficult to obtain from public sources and without cooperation from the very officials who received the money.
But those officials are not always so forthcoming to cooperate in sharing the financial information, especially in the cases where they are the ones responsible for the problems and have something to hide. Sometimes they deny that the obvious in-your-face problems even exist. Sometimes they either delay or obstruct investigations. Sometimes they dodge requests. Sometimes they flatly refuse to comply with the law, unless and until the president himself directs them to. In such cases, there’s nothing the public can realistically do.
That creates a conflict of interest situation where the officials who are most interested in hiding the information are the same officials who control said information. That conflict of interest needs to be eliminated and maximum amount of specific financial information should be made available online.
Otherwise, we’ll be seeing the same results as usual. Graft charges, same old problems over and over again.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the printed edition of Palawan Daily News last December 28, 2018 issue.