Transforming Coron

Coron is a beautiful protected island on the southeast coast of Busuanga. But when we speak of Coron, we usually refer to the town called Coron across the island, which is located on Busuanga Island itself. That area has become a tourist destination.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s just before the declaration of Martial Law, I spent much of my Navy patrol days all over Palawan, and indeed had circumnavigated the islands at that period. A considerable amount of sea time was spent there from the MINSUPALA tour, shifting Task Forces (even at one time following the jurisdictional change of then TF31 from ZAMBASUL to Western Visayas/Palawan).

I’ve told my friends about how seemingly unspoiled Balabac, Boracay, and Northern Palawan islands were. Today, in the populated areas, such is not the case, as it is never the case anywhere else in the Philippines and the world, except that some countries know how to deal with it better, and most are learning.

In 2012, I spent a few days exploring the tourist spots most often visited by local and foreign tourists in Busuanga, which had become a popular destination. What I found were great places to behold and enjoy for what they have naturally but I thought that the municipality itself, as was the case with the smaller town of El Nido on the mainland in the late ‘60s, could fare better if a big developer offered the residents a price they could not refuse, develop a nice relocation area for them and redevelop the town to a modern coastal town. SMDC, ALI, Robinsons Land and a few other players were not that big in those days.

In the closing days of 2017, I paralleled the 2012 visit in an unplanned way: my children secretly coordinated among themselves, partially in collusion with my wife, a program designed as a surprise birthday party for me combined with a trip as Christmas gift for their parents so I found myself retracing the family 2012 Busuanga program. While on the trip, I mentally assessed the progress, thinking that much should have developed, considering what I had heard or read in a few media reports. What I observed was disappointing although there is an increase in daily air flights compatible with the increased number of tourist (both local and foreign) arrivals, and some improvement in the airport, but very little positive development overall.

Robert C Thomas, in analyzing Asia’s demographic demons” last December stated, “If demography is indeed destiny, the future of Asia looks troubled.” While Thomas discussed political implications of demographic issues as they affect countries recently highlighted due to inherent security concerns, he overlooked the effects of population growth with respect to development of the poorer countries, something quite apparent in most Philippine tourist spots.

We do not lack interest and concern, as one would readily see upon checking on the various organizations and government agencies’ plans of Coron LGU, provincial government, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), whose motto is “Towards preserving the cultural heritage vis-à-vis the valuable ecological resource,” and other NGOs. There seems to be too many conferences, seminars and workshops, studies, recommendations, and even projects (e.g., The Coron Initiative) but what are obviously lacking — focus, organizational actions, and enforcement. Of these, the absence of law enforcement agencies is startling. Believe it or not, we never saw a single policeman in uniform in the 6 days we were there. One good aspect — unarmed uniformed PCG personnel were there to oversee tourist boat order and safety, and assist LGU staff.

PCSD says it all, “… institutionalization of the PA’s management board is still blurred. Various bodies have been organized to focus on special areas within the island, but most are short-lived. Although the Protected Area Office headed by Protected Area Superintendent (PASU) was set up in 1997, PAMB has not been organized considering the unresolved conflict between DENR and the Tagbanuas. Present protection activities undertaken include: Patrolling and Law Enforcement, Research and Monitoring, Information Campaigns, Coordination, and Networking.”

I saw the negatives in this conclusion but none of the positives of law enforcement. The following are my own assessments:

  • On the positive side, coral growth seems apparent, beaches have not been spoiled and tourist sites are still interesting and attractive. People are friendly, and perhaps reflective of the absence of uniformed policemen, peace and order is good. Food, water, electric power and consumer merchandise are available.
  • There seems to be no town planning and development program in Coron town. What we saw 5 years ago changed very little – narrow, congested streets, poorly lit roads, and lack of more modern establishments for tourists and locals to avail of. The coastal park that was already there prior to 2012 has not been improved (not even planted with trees).
  • There are many facilities begging to be developed, including (1) the hot spring property, which if given to the right party can be a tourist generator with hotel, restaurants and residences; (2) Tagbanua-managed beaches, which if handled with correct development investment in mind, can be great assets for the area, and enrich the IP’s resources; and (3) many outlying islands, such as Malcapuya, with its nearly kilometer long white beach, as well as other sites, can be world-class destinations.

Malcapuya Beach

Almost every week, I come across offers for properties indicating hundreds of development projects in the expanded Metro-Manila area. The private sector obviously has a handle on development in these environs. But do we just go on developing what JICA calls the Greater Capital Region, and forgetting other areas? I can imagine what great development, the kind of investment put in one block of property in the BGC, Ortigas Center, or the MBD, can bring about to Busuanga. To be fair, JICA is a longtime proponent of developing the Sandoval International Airport between El Nido and Puerto Princesa.

As I’ve said many times before, we need to take advantage of our unique environment and coastal resources for tourism to generate funds for further development, and serve as the nation’s engine of growth. By development and good governance, the protection and preservation of the natural environment can be better assured rather than leaving it to chance when we allow human nature to take its course, which spawns greed and corruption, due to lack of systematic management.

(Note: We intend to invite the Coron LGU and interested parties to join us at the 130th Maritime Forum at the Cebu Port Authority, Cebu City on Thursday, 8-Feb-2018 for a discussion on Busuanga development; or some other future forum).