The total coliform level in Panglao coastal water is reducing to even lower than the standard or “borderline” based on the recent quarterly tests by the government’s foremost environmental authority.
But the establishments which have wantonly disregarded the environmental laws and policies now have an ultimatum to comply in three months.
Commended by Gov. Edgar Chatto, the Panglao resorts, establishments, facilities and operators that have most complied are found in this story.
The decreasing contamination until the last quarter of 2017 suggests that Bohol’s prime resort island and tourist destination remain suited for swimming and other water recreation activities.
Also, this is on the heels of the report on the increasing environmental woes affecting Boracay that prompted Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to threaten to close the island from tourist activities.
Chatto said “we don’t have to compare ours with what may be the actual environmental condition in Boracay, but we have to situate correctly.”
The total Panglao water condition was further clarified in another stakeholders’ conference called by Chatto and, this time, attended by top Panglao officials at the Governor’s Mansion yesterday afternoon.
Reg’l. Dir. William Cuñado and Engr. Cindylyn Pepito of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) again attended the important meeting.
According to the DENR-EMB 2017 Panglao Coastal Water Quality Status Report, the total coliform level hit to 841.69mpn (most probable number) per 1000ml (milliliters) in the second quarter from 566.17mpn in the first quarter.
But it dropped to 284.15mpn/1000ml during the fourth quarter last year, and even lower in the the third quarter at only 116.94mpn.
The reducing trend for the total coliform, which includes fecal and other kinds, was far below the DENR-EMB standard of 1000mpn/1000ml.
Pepito said it was “unfair to conclude” negatively about Panglao’s total water quality, referring to a nationally published report.
She expertly clarified during her presentation that “not everything about coliform is negative, except for the fecal coliform.”
“We even have coliform in our tummy which helps in digestion,” she said.
The level of fecal coliform is the “important parameter to determine the water quality” of a water body like the coastal water in Panglao, she said.
Also per quarter result, the DENR-EMB report showed steady marked decreases in the fecal coliform levels: 305.70mpn/100ml in the first quarter; 277.20mpn, second quarter; 87.31mpn, third quarter; and 77.59mpn, fourth quarter.
The significant drop during the two final quarters in 2017 was lower than the DENR-EMB standard of 100mpn/100ml for fecal coliform.
Pepito noted that a national media report simply highlighted the higher figure (305.70mpn/100ml) for the first quarter last year without necessarily telling that the level had dropped dramatically in the succeeding quarters, which should have provided, in fact, the latest data and status.
A comparative status between 2014 and 2017 was shown, but Pepito said the situations within the period were not the same based on such factors as the growth in the number of resorts, accommodation facilities and related establishments and increase in tourist arrival.
Bohol tourism did suffer from a slump after the mightiest earthquake ever hitting the island-province in October 15, 2013.
The mushrooming of establishments and facilities that blatantly do not comply with the environmental and sanitation laws, regulations and policies can kill the coastal waters that nurture tourism, Chatto cautioned.
Although the 2017 quarterly water quality tests showed decreasing coliform levels, they were still higher than the quarterly results in 2016.
The fecal coliform standard was originally 200mpn/100ml but lowered to 100mpn/100ml pursuant to the DENR Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2016-08 in 2016.
People’s health is the foremost consideration under the new stringent policy, the DENR-EMB officials said.
Panglao’s coastal waters are officially classified as a water body that is mainly used for recreational activities, like swimming, with direct contact to skin.
Adding all the quarterly results in the year and dividing the sum by four, the annual average coliform level in 2017 was 167mpn/100ml.
Although it was “slightly” higher than or beyond the standard, the EMB-7 director still considered it “insignificant.”
Had the range not lowered with the issuance of the administrative order in 2016 that set the stricter standard, the average level would have still been within the old standard, Cuñado noted.
While the total coliform content in Panglao coastal water showed a reducing trend, an increase was observed in the congested and overcrowded Alona area in barangay Tawala.
Human feces are not the only source of fecal coliform as it also generates from the wastes from warm-blooded animals like, or which include, dogs that stray to the beaches.
But considered as the major contributing culprits for the coastal water coliform is the absence of waste water treatment facilities, substandard septage or septic systems, and non-compliance to and loose enforcement of sanitation and environmental laws and guidelines.
According to the DENR-EMB, only 33 Panglao resorts, hotels, accommodation establishments and related facilities are “with waste water dispatch permits.”
Cunado said his agency already sent notices to 90 environmental violators who will be called to a “massive technical conference” early next month.
The notices of violations carried an ultimatum “not to discharge wastes in 48 hours after receipt of the notices,” the EMB chief in Central Visayas said.
He said if the violators or non-compliant continue to dispose wastes, the local government unit (LGU) can “cancel, suspend or revoke their business permits.”
Cunado said the tough policy already has clearance from the central office of the DENR-EMB pursuant also to the Clean Water Act.
Based on the DENR-EMB list, the most-compliant are the Amarela Resort, Bohol Beach Club, Flushing Meadows, Genesis’ Divers – Hayahay Resort, Amorita, Hennan Resort, Panglao Island Nature Resort, Alona Kew Resort, EEI asphalt bathcing plant, and Pilipinas Water processing plant.
In an earlier conference also called by the governor and attended by Cuñado last Saturday, it was agreed to advice not just the Panglao government but all concerned LGUs in Bohol to include the DENR-EMB dispatch permit (DP) in the requirements for business permit.
The provincial government will not just assist but also help monitor the compliance by the LGUs.
The DENR-EMB this week will give the Panglao LGU the list of the violators so that the local government can directly go to the non-compliant.
“We keep watch but they don’t cooperate,” said Municipal Engr. Rogelio Bunao, also the building official, referring to the non-compliant or violators.
The attending Panglao officials were led by Acting Mayor Pedro Fuertes and Acting Vice Vice Mayor Brian Velasco.
Kag. Noel Hormachuelos said there are even “hard-headed” foreign operators of establishments who have their garbage brought by their workers when they get off-duty and who most likely just throw them anywhere along their way home.
GOVERNOR’S MEMO CIRCULAR
In a memorandum circular dated February 17, Chatto reminded all the mayors of the earlier instructions to strictly abide by and implement the environmental laws and policies in their respective areas.
The laws and policies are not limited to solid waste and waste water management and salvage zone observance.
He further reminded that non-compliance shall warrant the non-issuance of business permits or cancellation of already issued ones, provided that due notice and process are observed.
The governor asked the mayors to coordinate closely with the Provincial Legal Office (PLO) and Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) for guidance and assistance.
The governor invoked the general welfare clause of the Local Government Code of 1991, which states that the LGUs shall ensure and support, among other things, the enhancement of the people’s right to a balanced ecology.
In yesterday’s conference, Chatto reiterated the president’s firm message to the local chief executives, “I am not requesting you but I am telling you to do your job.”
FIX, OR AXE WILL FALL ON HEADS
Supporting the governor’s demand for a definite timeline, the DENR-EMB director told the violators to “do corrective measures” in a “maximum of three months.”
A bottomless septic tank, for example, which waste water sips easily deep and into the coastal water, can be fixed in just two weeks, Cuñado said.
He encouraged the non-compliant resorts and other establishments to learn from the waste treatment facility of the Bohol Quality which “uses just a small area but is very efficient.”
By end of May, all corrective measures have to be done or “let the axe fall on whosoever heads,” the governor said.
BLUEPRINT FOR ALONA
Chatto said there is a blueprint for a common waste water treatment, especially for the Alona area, already endorsed by the Provincial Development Council (PDC) to the Regional Development Council (RDC) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for funding.
But as a remedial measure yet, the one-hectare integrated sewage and waste water treatment plant built for the Bohol Panglao airport can be used.
The governor is working on this possibility with the concerned agencies like the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).
However, the individual violators to whom the DENR-EMB already sent notices of violations have to do their remedial measures “now.”
The violators have benefited from their businesses yet disposed their wastes to the disturbance and hazard of many, the governor lamented.