The local government in the northern Palawan tourism town of Coron said on Thursday (January 12) that it had yet to receive any official communication from the private developer which earlier announced plans to build a resort in the area featuring underwater attractions.
The online petition launched by environmentalists to stop the project has gone viral, while Environment Secretary Gina Lopez says she would not allow the proposed development.
“As of this moment, the local government unit has yet to receive any proposal, any communication either written or verbal regarding the project,” Coron Mayor Ajerico Barracoso told Rappler over the phone.
He said he couldn’t comment further on the project until the document mentioning its specific location and other vital details reach his office.
On January 9, Coral World Park Undersea Resorts Incorporated – a partner developer of Viacom International Media Networks that produces Nickelodeon shows like Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer – announced that it would build a resort in Palawan. It will “also feature one-of-its-kind resort dining experience with CWP’s trademark underwater restaurants and lounges, which will be located about 20 feet below sea level with vivid views of the world beneath the ocean.”
It has since backtracked and said: “The only infrastructure in the water is floating and all developments are on land. The ‘undersea themed’ Coral World Park is land-based.”
It also said: “The Nickelodeon undersea attraction and resort will be located amidst a cluster of 16 white sand islands of the CWP. With a distance of 5 to 20 minutes apart by speedboat…. The Coral World Park (CWP) is the largest Marine Reserve in Asia, comprising a cluster of 16 islands located in the western Philippines. It stretches 15,000 square miles from Coron town in the north to Puerto Princesa in the South with its center at the town of San Vicente in the province of Palawan.”
CWP said it would secure all the necessary government approvals before it starts building the facility on “private property.”
The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development earlier said it was only informed of the project through the media.
“As of this time, we have yet to receive any document or whatsoever, even an application letter,” PCSD spokesperson John Vincent Fabello said.
The PCSD, chaired by the provincial governor, is a multi-sectoral and intergovernmental body tasked to enforce Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act.
The developer needs to secure a SEP clearance from the PCSD, which implements the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN), a system providing grades of protection and development control over the whole of Palawan.
But the application would only get approved if it passes SEP’s standards on 3 fronts: ecological viability, social acceptability, and integrated approach.
“We do not categorically say we will accept the project, but as far as we’re concerned we have to look into their documents when they apply for a clearance,” Fabello said.
Lawyer Adelina Villena, PCSD staff director for operations said, “Their claim that it will be located in private property may not be accurate, as the corals, oceans, or sea ares not subject to title, therefore property of the state and not private.”
Coron Mayor Barracoso said, in case the local government gets the proposal, “we still have to consult our constituents also” through public hearing.
He said the process will be lengthy since the developer needs endorsements from different local government legislative bodies, from the barangay up to the provincial level.
“I do not have any idea where is that ‘private property’ they are mentioning, and if it’s ‘private property’ it refers to land,” he said. “But from what I’ve read it’s ‘underwater’ and it can’t be considered as private property,” the mayor said.
Barracoso added it might be okay if it would be built on private land; however he said it still needs to secure government permits.
On Thursday, Environment Secretary Lopez issued this statement:
“If the underwater theme park would cause the destruction of corals, right away, I will say no way.
“The fishermen need corals. The corals are the home for the fish, and some of our corals have shells and sponges that can cure cancer. I will never allow our biodiversity to be killed for money that some people want to make.
“The Philippines is a country of seven thousand islands, which has the highest endemism per unit area in the entire world, while Palawan is the number one island destination in the planet. It has rich biodiversity and lots of ecotourism potentials that should be primarily tapped by the Filipino people for the Filipino people.
“In any case, whatever decision that the DENR will make shall be filtered and anchored on social justice, which means that the marine resources of Palawan should benefit the greater majority.”
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