Save Panglao Balicasag Island!

By Ric Obedencio

Concerned agencies and officials have taken steps to protect and save Balicasag islet from further destruction through a proposed modification of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

 Panglao officials led by Mayor Benedicto Alcala may be rejoicing after being a part of the supervision of the islet following the initial MOA review undertaken by Philippine Navy (PN) and other agencies concerned during the two-day activity on Bohol Marine Triangle held last week at Bohol Plaza Resort in Dauis town.

For years, Balicasag, a declared naval reserve in 1907, has faced challenges of social and environmental concerns because of increasing number residents and influx of tourists. An underwater study conducted by marine experts and biologists a few years back showed growing residents there and wastes or effluents affect the fragile marine environment.

After more than an hour of huddle, Provincial Legal Officer Atty. Handel Lagunay, who participated in the discussion on MOA review, announced that Panglao town is allocated with a 1,000 sq. meter area as government center and allowed to enforce its ordinance regulating the tourism activity.

He said that erection of new houses for residents here will not be allowed anymore. Cong. Edgar M. Chatto, who initiated the discussion clarified that no eviction of settlers of their existing dwellings.

Another proposal for MOA is for the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) to continue to run the existing 1.5 hectare Balicasag Island Dive Resort, Lagunay said.

The Philippine Navy represented by Honorio Balanon, Jr. during the discussion shall conduct patrol around the island at the same time maintaining the light house there.

Also, the National Housing Authority (NHA) is willing to provide or extend technical assistance for housing, sewerage and livelihood for the residents, said Lagunay before the forum.

Among the group discussing the fate of the islet include Chatto, Gov. Erico B. Aumentado, Luisito Sibayan of the Coast Guard, Honorio Balanon, Jr. of the PN, Alcala, Vice-Mayor Pedro Fuertes, Fernando Garso of the NHA, BIDR manager Ma. Elena Go, Peter Dejaresco of the Provincial Tourism Council, PNP provincial director Edgardo Inking, and Ava Cagampang of the Bohol Tourism Office.

Balicasag being one of the hot points of the BMT host a delicate marine protected area (MPA) host to some 85 hard coral and six soft coral species. The coral cover accounts to 34.44% rated as fair while deeper area still has 40.33%, higher than 34.54% in the shallow portion of the islet.