Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco has backpedaled on promoting Puerto Galera amid poor water quality issues and is now advising tourists to explore other nature-based destinations in Oriental Mindoro.
Frasco said Puerto Galera is more than just water and Oriental Mindoro has a number of other nature-based destinations as well.
This comes as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared the popular resort town’s water as unsafe after 26 of its 35 water sampling sites failed to pass the quality standards.
Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones even disclosed that the water quality in Puerto Galera was already poor even before MT Princess Empress sank and caused a massive oil spill off the coast of Oriental Mindoro.
READ: Water quality in Puerto Galera already poor even before the oil spill–DENR
This prompted the Department of Health to warn the public to refrain from swimming, diving and consuming seafoods from the affected areas.
“Hindi na po tayo mag-aantay pa ng patuloy pa na test. Nakakita na po tayo ng accurate results,” DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
READ: DOH: Results of Puerto Galera water quality tests are now final, ‘accurate’
Frasco initially insisted on keeping Puerto Galera open, emphasizing the importance of striking a “balance between safeguarding lives and livelihoods.”
She pointed out that 11,000 tourism-dependent workers would lose their jobs and that Puerto Galera, already hit hard by the pandemic’s impact on tourism, would suffer a daily projected loss of P5.3 million if closed.
READ: DOT chief firm on keeping Puerto Galera open despite safety concerns
But on Friday, Frasco told tourists that there are plenty of other attractions in Oriental Mindoro that they can enjoy besides swimming and water sports.
For instance, she said adventure-seeking tourists can hike up Mt. Malasimbo, take pleasure in the scenic Tamaraw Waterfalls, explore the Puerto Galera Mangrove Conservation and Ecotourism Area, and immerse themselves in the rich and colorful culture of the Iraya Mangyan by visiting the ethnolinguistic group’s mountain village.
Other towns in Oriental Mindoro offer various tourist attractions, too, she said.
Tourists can relax by the river and enjoy a picnic at the Infinity Farm in Baco, visit the Silonay Mangrove Conservation Ecopark and Oriental Mindoro Heritage Museum, explore Naujan Lake, trek to Talon Falls or visit the heritage houses in Pola, and savor the culinary delights of Pinamalayan, the tourism chief said.
“We wish to highlight the plethora of offerings that this beautiful town and province has to offer particularly to nature lovers and adventure seekers,” she said.
“In addressing the needs of tourism stakeholders, we look not only at the primary tourism enterprises but also the secondary enterprises as well as the entire tourism value chain involved including all of the informal and indirect employment generated in the areas such as, for example, the vendors, the boatmen, the pasalubong makers, the dive shops, divers, among others,” she said.
READ: Baco’s best kept secrets: 6 nature resorts you don’t want to miss
Frasco acknowledged that her position on promoting Puerto Galera shifted in response to the findings and declarations of regulatory agencies.
“The Department of Tourism notes that while the joint statement of the Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources advised against consumption of water in affected areas of Puerto Galera and which the DOT also relayed to the public, the DOH in a subsequent announcement advised against partaking in recreational water activities in the said affected areas though without attributing the contamination directly to the recent oil spill,” she said.
She said that despite the projected loss in livelihood and tourism receipts, the DOT defers to the DENR and the DOH in making recommendations on the allowed operations in Puerto Galera based on scientific evidence and environmental and health standards.
“Paramount of course is the safety of tourists while giving importance to the need to balance the life and livelihood of the people,” added Frasco.
The tourism chief also said that the DOT is partnering with the Department of Labor and Employment to assist those affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro. Training programs for alternative livelihoods, including urban farming and food tourism, will begin on April 24 for affected tourism workers and community-based tourism organizations, she said.
Since the sinking in February of MT Princess Empress off the coast of Naujan, about 66 tourist sites across the province have been affected by the environmental disaster.
The Oriental Mindoro tourism industry incurred a little over P900 million in losses due to the oil spill.
MORE: Exploring the Beauty of Oriental Mindoro: Hiking Mount Malasimbo and Mount Iglit-Baco