The government has shifted its focus on the clean-up of Puerto Galera, using the rehabilitation of Boracay Island and Manila Bay as template.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies by this time should have a clear idea on what to do with Puerto Galera, a favorite destination among local and foreign tourists for its beaches, scuba diving and entertainment activities.
Puerto Galera's relative proximity to the main island of Luzon and Manila, for that matter, makes it an ideal tourism draw. But like Boracay Island, Puerto Galera has overdeveloped to accommodate the rising number of tourists. It is, thus, not surprising if some of Puerto Galera's hotel and restaurant establishments are found to be contributing to the degradation of the area's fragile ecosystem.
Puerto Galera's Sabang Beach and White Beach also have an active nightlife, thanks to their numerous bars and restaurants. They are famous for their "go-go bars" and have turned out to be one of the many sites of the country's sex tourism industry.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu's intervention in Puerto Galera is timely before the famous tourism site suffers permanent damage. The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, designated Puerto Galera in 1973 a Man and Biosphere Reserve, having some of the most diverse coral reef resources in Asia.
Cimatu wants a direct hand in the preservation of Puerto Galera. He will likely require all tourist establishments in the area to put up their own sewage treatment plants to clean up the coastal town. For starters, he must ensure the strict implementation of environmental laws, including Republic Act No. 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004, and Presidential Decree No. 705, or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.
The Boracay rehabilitation model must be replicated in Puerto Galera. Many of Boracay's bars, restaurants and hotels were demolished to restore a 30-meter stretch of sand between the water and tourist areas. A shoreline easement zone in Boracay was declared off-limits to drinking, smoking, weddings, vendors and massage providers—activities that can be done inside hotels and restaurants.
Cleaning up Puerto Galera will not be an easy task. But it must be done to make the tourism haven environmentally sustainable for the next generation to enjoy.