Balicasag Island Panglao

By Angeline Valencia

World's top dive site, Balicasag Island, finally caught an advancer of its formal identity with the municipal government of Panglao being in-charge.

 This was after Governor Erico Aumentado and First District Rep. Edgar Chatto asserted in last week's meeting in Manila with national officials, the municipal government's role in the development and protection of Balicasag Island, the top dive site in the province and among the best in the world.

 Aumentado and Chatto discussed the matter with Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) General Manager Mark Lapid; the flag officer in command, Rear Admiral Ferdinand Golez who led ten delegates from the Philippine Navy; an assistant secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) under the office of Vice-President Noli de Castro; the chief of the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-EMB), Julian Amador; some representatives of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR); representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard; and Lawyer Anos Fonacier, representing the Bohol Association of Hotel, Resorts and Restaurants (BAHRR), dive shops in Panglao.

 They agreed to review the old memorandum of agreement between the Philippine Navy and the PTA and draft a different one that will include the local government unit (LGU) of Panglao as one of the parties.

 The LGU's role in Balicasag had been sought amid issues on environment protection and overpopulation.

 The issues cropped up after local stakeholders raised concern on the environmental threats brought about by increasing rate of human activity in Balicasag and the nearby Pamilacan Island in Baclayon town, and encroachment of commercial fishers in the seawaters within the 15-kilometer radius from the terrestrial border of the islands.

 As the issue pointed to the missing intervention of the municipal government, Panglao Mayor Benedicto Alcala had to seek grounds to establish the LGU's jurisdiction on the island.

 On this, Aumentado and Chatto met with the concerned national officials last week in Manila to define the jurisdiction of Panglao municipal government, since earlier discussions and during the executive committee meeting of the Provincial Development Council (PDC) pointed to the authority of the Philippine Navy and PTA on the island.

 Alcala's hesitation to initiate any action on the issues and even in introducing development to the island was traced to an proclamation that subjected the island under the management and jurisdiction of the Philippine Navy and its old MOA with the PTA during the stint of Ramon Binamira Jr. as general manager of the PTA in the 1980s, which missed the LGU's part.

 It was also clarified based on the document that only 1.5 hectares of the 24-hectare area of the island is leased to PTA.

 This means the regulation of the remaining area of 22.5 hectares is under the Philippine Navy. There was no provision identifying the role of LGU-Panglao, Aumentado explained.

 It was the loophole that the governor saw in the situation, and is what Alcala said has been holding him back to initiate development in the island.

 Aumentado also pointed out that the jurisdiction of the municipal government of Panglao is significant, being the only entity that can draft ordinances and regulatory measures, especially on the seawaters surrounding the island.