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SoNA 2020

Environment tourism, revamp

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A year after President Rodrigo Duterte issued his marching order to rehabilitate major tourism spots in the country, a lot still needs to change. Some of his promises related to the protection and preservation of the environment made during his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last year still hang in limbo.

“I am giving due notice to the LGU and other stakeholders, kayo po, of tourist destinations to take extra steps in the enforcement of our laws and the protection of our environment,” Duterte said last year.

“For the other tourist destinations, needing urgent rehabilitation and enforcement of environmental and other laws shall soon follow,” he added.

Less than a week after the order, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu declared three “no-swim” zones in El Nido due to high coliform count, though the beach was allowed to remain open amid ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

Cimatu also identified five priority ecotourism sites in various stages of rehabilitation efforts in El Nido, Palawan; Panglao, Bohol; Siargao, Surigao del Norte; and Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the review and assessment of the environmental impacts of businesses in the aforementioned areas, as well as each location’s carrying capacity.

Last January, the DENR, Department of Tourism (DoT), and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) met to discuss updates on the supposed Baguio City rehabilitation program.

Significant efforts have also been put into developing renewable energy sources, rehabilitating Manila Bay and priority tourist destinations, and distributing land to indigenous communities in some provinces, especially in Boracay.

According to Conde Nast Traveler, Boracay went from being tagged by the President as a “cesspool” to bouncing back as the leading top Asian island destination last year. Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force head Cimatu said they remain on track to complete rehabilitation by May 2021.

However, the Duterte administration failed again to deliver on promises to pass a national land use act and to create a disaster agency, as well as the rehabilitation of the Carmona Sanitary Landfill and the Laguna Lake.

With the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, both the tourism and environment sectors took a hard beating and even the government is unsure of when they will recover.

Recuperating losses

According to the DoT, the Philippines is projected to lose about P42.9 billion in revenues between February and April alone due to the pandemic. This was based on the government’s data over the past three years.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the DoT will promote multi-destination and summer packages as soon as the outbreak calms down to recover the foregone revenues.

Puyat said the department has been working closely with major airlines to introduce more discounted accommodation rates, marked-down prices for domestic flights, and value-added tour packages.

The DoT, with a budget of about P14 billion for tourism recovery projects approved before the coronavirus pandemic, is currently hard at work in response to Covid-19’s heavy toll on the economy.

Puyat said a significant portion of the fund was set aside for the “ongoing projects, while others are in various stages of pre-procurement and procurement.”

Puyat cited the infrastructure and rehabilitation projects in Bohol, Pampanga, Iloilo, Corregidor Island, Pangasinan, Baguio City, Palawan, Puerto Galera, and other tourist spots.

“This crisis will pass but our sector is badly hurt. We must find ways to shorten the tourism industry’s recovery path while generating jobs in the meantime,” Puyat noted.

These ongoing and incoming projects are expected to provide thousands of jobs for Filipinos this year.

The regional tourism development plans also receive some P900 million in funding to “identify the tourism infrastructure needed to ensure sustainable development as well as promote the disaster resilience of tourist areas.”

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