The tourist business in Panglao, considered as the crown jewel of Bohol tourism, is now reaping the adverse impact of unbridled development as shown in the sharp rise in the pollution level measured by the presence of coliform contamination in its seawaters.
The total coliform level monitored during the second quarter of 2017 peaked at 841.69 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml (milliliters), according to a Panglao Water Quality Status Report released by the Ambient Monitoring Station of the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) to the Panglao Island Chamber of Commerce (PICC) on January 4, 2017.
But total fecal coliform breached the standard acceptable level of 100 MPN reaching 305.70 MPN per 100 ml. in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 185.33 in 2016 monitored in the same period.
Two years in a row, total coliform remained within the standard coliform level, unlike fecal coliform that continues to exceed the standard level for the past two years.
Total coliform and fecal coliform increases during the first two quarters of the year and gradually drops the rest of the year.
Coliform bacteria comes from the feces of humans and other warm-blooded animals and is largely blamed on mass tourism, in the case of Panglao, as the main source of coastal pollution.
A Chronicle report over the alarming pollution increase in the seawaters in Panglao generated much public concern causing jitters among Panglao businessmen in the tourism sector that spurred the PICC to call for a special meeting with the EMB to validate the Chronicle article.
Rommel Gonzales, PICC President raised fears of another “Boracay debacle” replicated in Panglao recalling the chilling effect of an EMB report of “high coliform content” in Boracay seawaters that severely affected tourists arrival in the island.
With the release of the EMB report, the PICC, whose members are themselves engaged in the tourism business in Panglao is now moving for the reduction of the fecal coliform level to at least half of the 100 MPN standard.
Albert Uy, President of the Bohol Chamber of Commerce deplored the lack of “political will” on the part of the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Panglao to implement and enforce existing environmental laws that is the main factor in the present state of confusion confronting the tourism business in the municipality.
Despite the sharp rise in the total coliform (TC) and fecal coliform (FC) level in the seawaters of Panglao in 2017 recorded from 10 monitoring stations around its coastal areas, the EMB downplayed the results as “borderline” but “quite challenging.”
William Cunado, EMB-7 Regional Director urged the PICC to forge a “close cooperation among the stakeholders with the aim for a clean Panglao.”
A nine-point must do agenda was also presented by the EMB to guide stakeholders leading to sustainable tourism development with the participation of the LGU of Panglao.
Six of the nine-point agenda compels the LGU to make the discharge permit a mandatory requirement for the issuance of a business permit and to conduct an inventory of all resorts without valid permits and wastewater treatment facilities. The EMB has issued 33 discharge permits to business establishments in Panglao.
The strict implementation of the “Easement Law” notwithstanding the issuance of
Executive Order No. 9 series of 2014 on August 27, 2014, by Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero enforcing the salvage zone and easement along the shoreline of Panglao and creating the salvage zone enforcement team.
A nagging issue resurfaced during the meeting after a foreign businessman raised the controversial exemption of a Korean investor from putting up his restaurant within the salvage zone.
Mayor Montero admitted the illegal construction but granted the Korean businessman a “special consideration without precedent” by issuing a special permit allowing the construction within the 20-meter salvage zone.
However, Montero, in an interview with DYRD “Inyong Alagad” on September 28, 2015, prohibited prospective investors to invoke her so-called “special consideration” permit.
According to Municipal Engineer Rogelio Bunao, no building permit was issued by his office for the construction of the 94 square meter restaurant within the salvage zone.
The clamor for a suitable site for tourist “bancas” that is now hugging the shorelines of Alona Beach and the stray dogs which were found to have contributed to the coliform level due to their waste disposal.
The LGU was also urged to address the proper waste management of residents along the shorelines of Panglao.
Cindylin Pepito, head of the Ambient Monitoring Section of EMB-7 told the stakeholders that fecal coliform exceeding the standard level should be a major concern considering its effects on human health through bathing in polluted waters.
According to a comparative water quality report for 2016 and 2017, nine monitoring stations except station 3 exceeded the fecal coliform standard of 100 MPN in 2017 by an average of 189.55 MPN with station 2 recording the highest at 305.80 MPN and station 4 lowest at 120.14 MPN.
In 2016, only four of the ten monitoring stations exceeded the total fecal coliform standard by an average of 148.14 MPN.
Average fecal coliform in 2017 from the 10 monitoring stations exceeded the 100 MPN standard with a 178.79 while the average for 2016 slightly went beyond the limit registering 103.06.
Water samples are taken from the ten monitoring stations starting from the coastal waters in Barangay Tawala to Barangay Dulho every month and are sent to the regional office for analysis.
However, Pepito stressed that “on the average” Panglao still passed the standards for total coliform and fecal coliform from all its 10 monitoring stations located around the municipal coastal waters in 2016 and 2017 and maintained its classification for its coastal and marine waters as class SB.
Class SB water bodies have stringent requirements since these are intended for swimming, bathing, skin diving, etc. or primary contact recreation, commercial propagation of shellfish and spawning areas for “bangus” and similar species and for eco-tourism and recreational activities, according to Pepito.
Panglao’s coastal and marine waters made it to the Additional List of Classified Water Bodies in Region 7 as per DENR Memorandum Circular No. 2017-13 signed by DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu on December 112, 2017.
A 2014 Annual Water Quality Status Report on Panglao Coastal Waters which was printed on June 22, 2015, Sunday edition of the Chronicle showed a marked improvement in the effort of local tourism stakeholders to comply with environmental laws.
The report which did not sit well with the LGU top officials and the Sangguniang Bayan showed that monitoring stations located in Alona Beach exceeded by 2500 MPN the total coliform standard.
Two monitoring stations, also in Alona Beach and two in Dulho area also showed “exceedance to the fecal coliform quality criteria of 200MPN/100mL.”
According to the report, “the exceedance may be attributed to improper or inefficient sewage/wastewater treatment facility within the beach resorts operating along the coastal water of Panglao, Bohol”.
At that time, nine monitoring stations were in existence covering business establishments within a 100-meter radius.
The EMB7 report saw print in The Freeman, Cebu Sun Star, and Super Balita on June 4, 2015, that said “four rivers and four coastal waters in Central Visayas including Panglao, Bohol as closely monitored because they are considered among the dirtiest in the region.” (Chito M. Visarra)