MANILA, Philippines - Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said yesterday the government should stop selling lands in Baguio City and Boracay Island to protect the environment.
“The government can only promote public welfare in lands that it owns. Once sold to the private sector, we cannot dictate. We can only tell (the buyer) how to mitigate (the impacts of development on the environment),” Paje said.
“In Baguio, the biggest landowner is still the government, so we could still mitigate and make decisions that will promote public welfare,” he said.
Paje also cited a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that the government owns Boracay until 2016 and it has the opportunity to “correct and plan for a more sustainable development of the island.”
The DENR has not issued an environmental compliance certificate for any building or establishment “until such time Boracay has been planned properly,” he said.
Under an existing ordinance passed by the municipality of Malay, Aklan, structures are not allowed within 25 meters from the mean water mark determined between low and high tides and within an additional five meters intended for tourist access within the beach area.
Paje said President Aquino issued an order directing the DENR, justice, local governments and tourism departments to study the carrying capacities of Baguio City and Boracay.
Carrying capacity refers to how much load an area can take over a given period of time from factors such as population and infrastructure without adversely affecting the environment.
In addition to issues on water pollution, environmentalists have raised concerns about the dwindling bat population in Boracay because of disturbance to their habitats.
He said the President also directed the inclusion of the police in the implementation of environmental laws.
Paje said the President wanted to ensure that the issues confronting Baguio and Boracay would not be repeated in other tourism sites.
He said the government, through the National Tourism Council, has identified 78 tourism sites, including Panglao Island in Bohol, Coron Island in Palawan and the Puerto Princesa Underground River, which has been experiencing a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals since its proclamation as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. - By Rhodina Villanueva