The Department of Tourism (DOT) said the joint report on the quality of waters in Puerto Galera indicates “no direct link” or evidence that the popular dive destination has been affected by the oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress last February.
In a Malacañang presser on Tuesday, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said the Department of Health (DOH) advised the public to proceed with caution but “no swimming ban has been indicated, only that concerns have been expressed in the ingestion of water.”
“(T)herefore, our perception of this joint statement is that the Puerto Galera tourism continues to be open, as well as that there has been no direct attribution in terms of the direct source of the findings, considering the presence of other human and economic activities in Puerto Galera,” she said.
In a joint statement dated April 18, the DOH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said only nine out of 35 sampling stations it visited across Puerto Galera have met the criteria for water quality guidelines on “oil and grease.”
DOH Officer in Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, clarified that the finding “is not conclusively related” to the recent oil spill.
Passing the quality guidelines on “oil and grease” contaminants are Small Lalaguna and Big Lalaguna Shoreline, Balete, Central Sabang Shoreline, Coco Beach, Batangas Channel, Paniquian, Balatero, and West San Isidro Bay.
Lalaguna was one of the dive sites Frasco earlier visited for scuba diving.
Puerto Galera is Oriental Mindoro’s top-rated destination, contributing to at least 85 percent of the province’s tourism economy.
At its peak, Frasco said the popular diving and beach town generated tourism receipts of more than PHP1.2 billion.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the Philippines only reopened in February of last year, Puerto Galera had already raked in half a billion pesos. And we fully perceive that the recovery of Puerto Galera, especially in terms of domestic tourism is well on the way this year,” she said. “As far as international tourism is concerned, we want to be able to make sure that the viability of Puerto Galera as a tourism destination continues.”
The tourism chief said the closure or “perception of the oil spill having reached Puerto Galera” could spell about PHP5.3 million in daily revenue loss.
“Our effort really in the Department of Tourism is to work very closely with the DENR, the DOH, and other related agencies, including the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) so that we can work hand in hand with the local government unit of Puerto Galera in particular, and the province in general,” she said.
Citing figures from the provincial tourism office, Frasco said the province incurred a little more than PHP900 million in losses due to the recent oil spill.
“And that is why, I think, the most important thing right now, as far as tourism is concerned, is to really ensure the continued viability of Puerto Galera as a tourism destination, considering that no less than 11,000 tourism workers depend on the industry continuing to be open,” she said.
During their visit to Oriental Mindoro on Saturday, Frasco said national government officials, led by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., met with several mayors and community-based tourism organizations regarding the livelihood training for the affected residents.
“Magsisimula na po iyong (We will start the) alternative livelihood trainings on April 24 and it will continue until May. In conjunction with this, kasi po concerned iyong ating Presidente sa kapakanan ng ating mga kababayang Pilipino (because our President is concerned about our people’s welfare), especially our tourism front-line workers,” she said.
“We have also agreed with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) na iyong mabibigyan ng (those will be given) alternative training, on one hand, bibigyan po sila ng free na starter kit para sa trainings na matatanggap nila (they will be given a free starter kit for their training) and on the other hand, mabibigyan po sila ng (they will also receive) TUPAD financial assistance,” Frasco said, adding that the Marcos administration is carefully balancing the need to protect lives and the livelihood of residents.
The TUPAD or the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers is a community-based package of assistance that provides emergency employment for displaced workers, underemployed and seasonal workers, for a minimum period of 10 days, but not to exceed a maximum of 30 days, depending on the nature of work to be performed.
Frasco also thanked President Marcos for continuing to articulate the importance of the tourism industry under his administration, recognizing the massive contribution that it continues to have on the Philippine economy.
Last week, the Chief Executive went to Oriental Mindoro to inspect the oil spill site in the province.
The President then led the distribution of various government assistance to the residents affected by the oil spill. (PNA)