Swimming in Panglao, the prime beach destination in the province, is already allowed barely three days after a “ban” was issued by Department of Tourism (DOT) Bernadette Puyat during her visit at the inauguration of the Bohol Panglao International Airport.
The DOT official told the Chronicle during a phone interview that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) will conduct frequent water testing in the area in order to monitor its cleanliness in an effort to keep every tourist safe from bacterial contamination.
The lifting of the swimming ban was relayed by Puyat to Governor Edgar Chatto who reacted on the order as it might cause a negative image for Bohol on the very day the international airport was opened.
But was the “no swimming” order by Puyat based on a statistical aberration or “data outlier?”
Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Region 7 Regional Director William Cunado described the 16,000 MPN (Most Probable Number) per 100 milliliters (ml) fecal coliform count that appeared in its 2018 October 16 Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Report as a “data outlier” or an aberration.
In statistics, an outlier is a point in a sample widely separated from the main cluster of points in the sample or in layman’s definition – a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome.
The 16,000 MPN/100 ml. exceeded the standard acceptable level of 100 MPN/100 ml. as reported by the EMB caused a maelstrom that stunned resort owners in Alona beach and the local tourist industry.
However, the fecal coliform count dipped back to 33 MPN/100 ml. on November 18, 2018 way below the standard acceptable level, according to the same EMB report.
The water quality assessment interpretation of Panglao Island Coastal Waters by the EMB belied accusations hurled against Chatto by newly reinstalled Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero that the 16,000 MPN fecal contamination was “politically motivated.”
Montero went ballistic after a “no swimming” order was issued by Puyat in station 1, Brgy. Tawala including Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan on December 1, 2018.
The order from Puyat rattled the local tourist industry still basking in the grand opening of the P7.9 billion Bohol-Panglao International Airport, the first “eco- airport in the country on November 27, 2018, with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda as honored guests.
Montero told DYRD “Tagbilaran by Night” on December 3, 2018, that she was “very, very sad” that the reported 16,000 MPN, which was a product of a fake news was orchestrated by Chatto to boost the candidacy of 1st District Board Member Venzencio “Benjie” Arcamo who is running for mayor in the May 2019 mid-term elections.
Montero also claimed that she never heard any of the cabinet secretaries present during the November 27, 2018, closed-door meeting giving a “no swimming” order because of high counts of coliform.
According to the EMB report, establishments such as Henann Resort, Genesis Dive Shop, and Alona Tropical owned by Montero are nearest to the sampling stations in Tawala.
Although Alona Tropical was tagged by the DENR as one of the easement violators, Montero said: “I will not risk our livelihood by allowing the waters of Alona beach to be contaminated with fecal coliform.”
The meeting was attended by Puyat, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Ano, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Governor Edgar Chatto and Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero.
Two days after the cabinet secretaries meeting, Chatto wrote Cunado to conduct an investigation of possible sources of illegal discharge that might be the cause of the high fecal coliform count, as per instruction of Cimatu.
Chatto noted in his letter to Cunado that “this is not the trend in the previous month’s results” and directed the Local Government Unit of Panglao and the Provincial Health Office (PHO) to conduct a joint collection of water samples and perform the analysis of the samples at the PHO Water Laboratory.
The letter of Chatto to Cunado was marked received by the Office of the Mayor of Panglao on December 3, 2018, two days after the news broke out in the national media on Puyat’s “no swimming” order.
Cunado, painstakingly explained to the Chronicle the quirks of data gathering after the 16,000 MPN report presented during the closed-door meeting on November 27, 2018, at the South Palm Resort.
Based on the results of the ambient or surrounding sampling conducted by the EMB on stations 1, 2, 3 (Brgy. Danao) and stations 1, 2, 3 (Brgy. Tawala) the “data outlier” was the high fecal coliform reaching a value of 16,000 MPN/100 milliliters (ml).
However, for the last seven months, according to the report, the majority of fecal coliform levels in the stations in Danao and Tawala “are within safe levels”
The possible factors may be attributed to the presence of over a hundred tourist boats with no septic receptacles that are moored within the vicinity of the sampling stations, the presence of stray animals that defecate on the shore and the ebb and flow of tides, weather conditions and the direction of currents at the time of sampling, according to the EMB report.
The EMB strongly advised that the standard treatment for “data outliers” should be applied which is its non-inclusion as a basis for conclusions in any scientific study.
Cunado cautioned that due to the importance of ambient water sampling results obtained by EMB-7 and the implications that this would generate, these “data outliers” should be avoided as the basis for any conclusion on the water quality status of a specific area.
“Decision making and policy formulation should be based on the trend of data gathered from the same stations over the last several months and not on “data outlier” that is not within the established data trend.”
Tawala station 2 and 3 were observed to have reached 33 MPN/100 ml. and 23 MPN/100 ml. respectively on October 18 when the 16,000 MPN/100 ml. was observed in Tawala station 1 by the EMB sampling team.
EMB has five water quality monitoring stations located within Alona Beach which are monitored monthly.
These stations are fronting Bohol Divers Resort which is the least crowded stations, Lost Horizon Resort with restaurants along the shores, Alona Kew White Beach Resort which is the main mooring area for tourist boats where establishments have encroached the coastal areas, according to the EMB report.
Some resorts fronting Alona Kew have storm drains within this area while Alona Tropical and Hennan Resort is one of the main swimming areas for tourists and is a favorite area for sun-bathing.
The station fronting Amorita Resort is located near a cliff which has a cove-like formation while the length of Alona beach is dotted with dive shops.
According to the EMB, stringent monitoring activities are being conducted in all establishments within the sampling stations checking all wastewater treatment facilities and septic tanks.
Those resorts operating sealed septic tanks are required to submit proofs of hauling from septic haulers. (Chito M. Visarra)