BY: David Baillie
I wonder how many readers know that the Philippine Navy (PN) is the legal owner of Balicasag Island, the tourism jewel of Panglao, and that all the current residents on the island are essentially ‘informal settlers’ who have no land rights there whatsoever!
Despite this fact, the community there operates within a Purok like any other in Bohol. Here it is included within Bgy. Poblacion, Panglao receiving full recognition from the DILG and COMELEC.
Anyone visiting the Island today will see that, over decades, the Island’s inhabitants have asserted their presence by acquiring not only their own Church but also an Elementary School and a Panglao LGU-operated Health Center. Despite these realities however, the Philippine Navy is still in-charge or is this really so?
Strange though all this may seem, the reason for this is historical.
During the Pre-Independence period, the American Administration selected Balicasag to be a lighthouse island along with many others situated along all the major shipping lanes within the nation. Just a cursory glance at any map of the Visayas will show you that Balicasag is of course on one of the principal shipping routes going into and out of Cebu, the busiest port in the Philippines.
All those years ago, the Americans financed both lighthouse construction, as well as the Navy personnel needed to run it.
Today, the ruins of the original local materials Navy building remain next to the current state-of-the-art Balicasag Lighthouse. This is a steel structure with a battery-powered light which is re-charged daily using solar panels. Its Lighthouse Keeper, however, is from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which took over all lighthouse operations nationally from the PN in 1967.
The Philippine Navy is still there today though, but only operates a small outpost which trains divers and monitors shipping movements in the nearby Straits.
In addition to the PN, PCG and PnglaoLGU, there is also a fourth important government entity heavily involved with Island operations.
During the Marcos era, the then Philippine Tourism Authority (now TIEZA), built and operated the Balicasag Island Dive Resort (BIDR). Today its Manager there is perhaps the most influential official on the Island.
Change, however, is perhaps on the horizon for them as the BIDR it will soon be upgraded and managed by a private sector operator.
Despite the fact that all four managing entities are from the public sector, governance on Balicasag has always been problematic. Theoretically PN should be in-charge, but its Unit there is headed up only by a non-commissioned officer (NCO) who has little or no authority either within the PN or within the Island community.
At the same time, both PanglaoLGU and TIEZA have a watching presence’ of most of Island life. With such confusion, it is not surprising therefore that development there over the past decades has been uncontrolled and that the enforcement of almost any lawand/or ordinance at best proves to be ‘difficult’.
So what can be done about this? I know that the tourist business community within Panglao remains concerned about the matter. Almost all of us believe that the local government sector should be in charge.
Just imagine if this such a change happened, wouldn’t the Province and the Municipality allocate more funds for Balicasag services and developments? Balicasag urgently needs a 100% owner/controller if it is to survive present human onslaughts and hopefully develop true sustainability!!
Given that the PN,PCG, Panglao LGU and TIEZA have not been able to resolve the leadership issues between them, should this not be the mandate of the Provincial Government to step in and rationalize the situation once and for all?
Frustratingly, this topic is not new!. The Panglao dive shop operators and tourism NGOs have constantly pushed for such a change for at least a decade. To my enormous surprise though, just recently I was told by a senior official/legislator that the private sector NGOswere lobbying on the wrong track!!
New legislation of the type needed here apparently has to be formulated in relation to grassroots needs…, that is through the people’s own councils. Apparently any first steps must eventually come through the Bohol Province Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), which itself can pass motions requesting new Republic Act legislation within Congress.
So NGOs, fellow residents and politicians within of Panglao, please help! Let’s raise this issue seriously with central government officials and Congresspersons! Please let’s get the matter on the SP ‘Urgent Agenda’ asap.
I know that an eventual outcome is unlikely to materialize within the present three-year terms of existing elected representatives, but don’t let this be a reason for procrastinating. Of course a change of legal responsibility for the Island will not totally transform the situation, but I am sure it would produce areally significant percentage improvement!
Let’s stop the arguments and face reality!