Lila Mayor Arturo Piollo II will issue an order to suspend the controversial feeding of whale sharks in the town’s seawaters which has started to attract hundreds of touristseveryday.
This was the categorical statement issued by the youthful mayor last night amid mounting pressures from environmentalists, the latest objection of which came from Gov. Art Yap.
Mayor Piollo told the Chronicle that he has not issued permit for the operators of the whale shark feeding based in barangay Taug. He will confer with Taug barangay Capt. CandidoTagub and the two neighboring barangays to explain the urgent need to first institutionalize regulations while the operation will be anchored on environmental regulations.
For the past three weeks, tourists started to troop to the area while a certain Greg Jala is heading a group of investors interested to undertake what is now popularly done in Donsol, Sorsogon and in Southern Leyte.
The Chronicle learned that about 16 whale sharks frequent the area which has started to generate tourists reaching to almost 200 persons daily. The investors group has five paddle boats to ferry tourists starting as early as 7 o’clock in the morning. Foreign tourists are charged P1,000 and P500 for locals while Lila residents are free.
A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was presented by the investors giving 30% of the proceeds to the municipal government, 10% to barangay Taug and 1% each to the adjoining barangays of Tiguis and Lomanoy.
Mayor Piollo said he has not signed this MOA pending the formulation of strict regulations if ever the operations will be granted the Mayor’s Permit.
The sudden influx of tourists to the area generated strong opposition from environmental groups. The latest to issue a strong objection was Gov. Art Yap.
In a signed statement, Yap said “In man’s power, today is the ability to save lives, preserve the earth and to destroy worlds. The people and government of Lila must decide what they want to be: The savior of lives or the destroyer of worlds.”
“I ask the people of Lila and the LGU to examine the situation as exemplary citizens of the world, without the need of having to resort to the language of Administrative Order 193 (1998), the Philippine Fisheries Code, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, The Convention of Migratory Species, and the Local Government Code on what the Provincial Government can order stopped or sanctioned,” Yap said.
He also clarified that he issued the statement, not as a ranking government official but as “a simple human being who loves Bohol”.
“I issue this statement devoid of all my past and present titles as a high ranking official of the Philippine and Provincial Governments. I issue this statement not as a Former Agriculture Secretary and Chairman of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, nor as a Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives nor as Governor of Bohol. I issue this statement as a simple human being who loves my province of Bohol and everything it stands for. And what does the Province of Bohol stand for? I should hope that Bohol stands for the respect of the rights of “ALL” to live in peace in an environment protected from harm and made sustainable for all time. When I say “ALL”, I mean it to include “ALL” creatures created by God in this world of His creation,” Yap said.
Meanwhile, Save Sharks Network Philippines (SSNP), in a statement posted by environmental group Greenpeace on its website, condemned the feeding of whale sharks for economic purposes which it said is “a clear form of exploitation and harms ecological balance in Bohol.”
Free the Whale Sharks Coalition – Bohol which called the practice an “ecological trap” meanwhile launched an online petition to suspend operations of the whale shark interaction pending community consultations and the issuance of permits.
The petition currently has over 3,000 signatories, while the campaign continued to draw attention following the posting of multiple videos through social media showing tourists being allowed to go near the whale sharks and feed them.
Bureau of Fisheries and Resources (BFAR) officer-in-charge CandidoSumijon on Wednesday told the Chronicle that they have already reported the matter to their regional office which they expect would issue a directive on what measures to take.
“Naaynadawatnamona copy-furnished [letter] gikansa concerned group peroakonggi-forward sa Cebu paramakakuha ta ogunsag’yudang stand saatoang regional office,” Sumijon said.
Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 1 series of 2004 by the Department of Tourism and Department of Agriculture prohibits vessels from going near whales as they should maintain a 100-meter distance from the ocean mammal.
The JAO also prohibits people engaged in whale watching from disembarking and swimming with the cetaceans, or large ocean mammals.
However, the JAO only covers cetaceans such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, but not whale sharks which are classified as fish species.
According to Sumijon, they would have to await orders from the BFAR 7 to clarify the issue, particularly with the world-renowned whale shark interaction in Oslob, Cebu still operational, albeit drawing serious flak from local and international environmentalists.
Sumijon said that the whale sharks are in Lila waters for their nutritional needs as the area is part of their migration path.
“Ang factors ana, naaypresensyasapagkaon so moanhanasila,” he added.
There had also been reports indicating that the whale sharks were being forced to stay in the area by fencing them in with nets.
Sumijon said that holding the whale sharks captive would be illegal but noted that they will still have to verify if they were indeed enclosed by nets.
Environmentalists have pointed out that whale sharks are highly migratory animals which should not be trained to stay in one place.
“Are we not endangering whale sharks not only by interfering in their natural order but actually conditioning them to approach boats and human contact which may expose them to danger, accidents, capture and, or exploitation?” Yap pointed out.
Yap pointed out that “by feeding the whale sharks, the people are effectively keeping them captive”.
Yap clarified that he is for jobs, development and solution to social issues, but these should not take toll on the “natural order of life for all creatures”.
“Yes, I am for jobs, business, commerce, investments, industry, the defeat of hunger, disease and poverty in our time, BUT…..without affecting the natural order of life for all creatures and their habitats. I ask the people of Lila and the Local Government, to take a step back and reflect on these fundamental issues that define our very humanity,” Yap explained.
Mayor Piollo said knowing the rich habitat in the Lila seawates, he will seriously look into the establishment of an “Ocean Safari” in the area
Nearby the area is also the presence of sea turtles and manta ray, In fact, the LGU is planning to request BFAR to declare the area as a marine protected area.