By Camille A. Aguinaldo

SENATOR Grace Poe-Llamanzares has filed a bill seeking the creation of a national body which would establish standards for effective coastal management and provide incentives to local government units that implement sustainable tourism models.

Filed last Feb. 12, Senate Bill No. 1687 or the proposed Sustainable Coastal Tourism Act would create a Philippine Council for Sustainable Coastal Tourism, tasked to formulate policies and standards for sustainable waste management, protection of coastlines and wildlife as well as development and promotion of tourism models, among others.

In her explanatory note, Ms. Llamanzares highlighted the importance of coastal resources in achieving the tourism sector’s potential, citing the country’s coastlines as spanning some 36,000 kilometers and encompassing around 800 municipalities.

“For many foreigners and tourists, these coastlines are our country…Beach resorts and hotels have sprung up in beaches often visited by tourists. Obviously this has had a huge multiplier effect in terms of tourist arrivals and economic growth. However, the unmanaged growth has caused environmental experts to raise red flags on the negative effect of this model,” the bill stated in part, adding:

“Boracay Island is an instructive example….Hotels, lodging houses, second homes, and restaurants were constructed both along the beach and away from the coast to accommodate rising tourist arrivals.”

“Untreated sewage from these new buildings were — and still are — dumped into the sea due to the lack of a developed wastewater system. High levels of coliform bacteria in the island were noted as early as 1997. Groundwater shortages have been noted. Lack of a developed waste management system has led (to) mounting land pollution.”

In Ms. Llamanzares’ bill, the interagency council would be composed of the secretaries or representatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Tourism (DoT), Department of Transportation (DoTr), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Health (DoH), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as well as two experts on sustainable coastal management and three nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

The council would be mandated to prevent and reverse coastal degradation, maintain cleanliness on coastlines, ensure wastewater treatment and supervise implementation of coastal tourism plans for the local government units (LGUs).

LGUs would also be required to formulate their respective Local Sustainable Coastal Tourism Plans to ensure the quality of coastal recreational areas within their jurisdiction.

Erring local officials shall be charged with the penalty of dereliction of duty under Republic Act No. 7160 under the Local Government Code of 1991.

On the other hand, complying LGUs shall be given an incentive through a fund that will be sourced from the 5% annual increase of revenues collected from the excise tax on manufactured oils and other fuels.

Ms. Llamanzares’ bill came amid the ongoing environmental issues hounding the country’s top tourist destination, Boracay Island in Aklan, as resorts face possible closures for not complying with environment laws.

The Senate committee on environment and natural resources, chaired by Senator Cynthia A. Villar, will open its inquiry on Friday on the alleged mismanagement of the island’s sewage treatment plants.