Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has announced that the rehabilitation of the world-famous El Nido beach in Palawan will continue, but it would remain open to tourists.

Cimatu, however, said that the “no swimming” policy would remain in effect in certain areas within Bacuit Bay and Corong-Corong due to high coliform levels.

Citing a recommendation by the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in MIMAROPA, Cimatu said these areas are not safe for swimming for having high fecal coliform counts reaching nearly 16 million most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100ml).

“We waited for this so that we can make a decision. The decision is that we will continue the rehabilitation,” Cimatu announced during a press conference after emerging from a meeting with Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año in Camp Aguinaldo last Thursday, August 1.

The DENR chief added: “We will not close El Nido, and we will continue the ‘no swimming’ in [three outfalls] in Bacuit Bay and one in Corong-Corong.”

He identified the three outfalls in Bacuit Bay as El Nido Estero, Cabugao and Masagana.

Aside from the degradation of water quality that was caused by lack of sewerage systems of household and commercial establishments, Cimatu said the encroachment in easement zone and timberland, solid waste management and violation of environmental laws were also found to have contributed to the dreadful conditions in El Nido.

Cimatu has directed the regional executive director of DENR MIMAROPA to form an inter-agency task force composed of regional offices of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government and representatives from the local government unit (LGU) to “undertake investigation and inspection of establishments, including households” within El Nido’s tourism area.

The task force will have 20 days starting August 5 to conduct their operations and is expected to submit the results on August 25.

Cimatu ordered the task force to identify non-compliant commercial establishments or those that violate environmental laws, no business permits and without DOT accreditation.

“Ito ‘yung mga gagawin nila, including ‘yung violation sa timberland kung saan nag-build sila ng mga resort doon without the necessary permits from the government,” he added.

The former military chief emphasized that if there will be recommendations from the task force to shut down establishments, it will only be “individual” businesses and not the entire ecotourism area.

Asked about the cause of the current state of El Nido, Cimatu cited the lack of regulatory measures from the LGU, especially the mayor, despite the Local Government Code designating LGUs as in-charge of their respective tourism sites.

“Ganito po ang nangyari sa Boracay noon, walang nagko-control, but this time we are able to stop all this. And we will continue to stop this because we cannot allow na mag-deteriorate itong El Nido into another Boracay,” said Cimatu.

“That is the reason why we cautioned the mayor, because the mayor, technically, is in-charge of this, it is not our task force. However, we are providing technical assistance and all other assistance that the government can do in order to save El Nido.”

The same plan used in the rehabilitation of the Boracay Island will be followed for the rehabilitation of El Nido and the rest of the ecotourism areas in the country, such as Coron, Siargao, Panglao, and Puerto Galera. ###