Unless they want Santa Fe’s famous white beaches to be closed down like Boracay Island, Mayor Jose Esgana advised resort owners, tourists and citizens to strictly adhere to environmental laws on proper waste disposal.
“If the national government will not shut us down, (then) the LGU (local government unit) of Santa Fe will. The entire island (can) be totally closed … not only certain establishments. The LGU can discourage tourists not to visit Santa Fe,” said an irked Esgana.
Since Holy Wednesday (March 28), Esgana and the LGU’s officials had conducted series of inspections on the town’s shoreline, which has been a major attraction to domestic and international tourists spending their vacations, specially during the Holy Week, in Santa Fe, one of the three towns on Bantayan Island, about 132 kilometers north of mainland Cebu City.
What they saw were piles of garbage strewn all over its white sand beaches, which reminded them of the same horrific scenes during last year’s Lenten break.
Uncollected garbage on Santa Fe’s shoreline is a perennial problem of the municipality, which hosts the island’s seaport and most of its resorts and other tourism-related establishments.
The resort facilities of Santa Fe are also the staging points for tourists who go to the island during the Holy Week primarily to witness the world-famous Lenten processions in Bantayan town, which is about 30 minutes or 10 kilometers from Santa Fe.
After photos of plastic bottles and other trash that littered Santa Fe’s shoreline during the Holy Week went viral last year, the LGU decided to enact ordinances to address this problem such as imposing a P30 “ecological fee” to every tourist who enters its port, which will be used to defray the cost to clean up its shoreline and coastal water, and a measure that requires outdoor event organizers to conduct cleanup drives after their respective events.
But the same problem still happened this year.
“Everyone has to be accountable. It’s our responsibility but it’s also their responsibility. We have to help in cleaning Santa Fe. If they only depend on the LGU, what happened to Boracay may happen to us,” he said.
Esgana was referring to the environmental issues now hounding the famous resort-island that had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to order its closure to all tourism-related activities for at least six months.
Esgana, in a press conference on March 28, stressed the need for Santa Fe, a fourth-class municipality with a population of over 28,000, to remain clean and environmentally safe for everyone.
This was a concern he raised just as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was in the middle of closing down resorts that violate environmental laws such as the requirement for waste water treatment and solid waste management facilities.
The town of Santa Fe has transformed from a sleepy fishing community to one of Cebu’s premiere tourist destinations due to its fine, powdery and white sand and crystal clear waters.
Data obtained from the LGU showed that there are at least 500 tourists in Santa Fe every day since the first week of March this year. The number, while surging during the Holy Week, is expected to increase further during the summer months of April and May.
Tourists flock to Santa Fe not just to participate in the Holy Week processions in Bantayan but to spend time in the resorts and the beaches.
With the hosts of environmental problems rising as tourism grows, local officials have stepped clean-up drives starting from the Lenten period until the end of May.
Esgana said they also required event organizers to do the same thing after every event. Otherwise, he said, these organizers, including local establishments that served as their hosts or partners, would be banned from holding future events in Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe Police have been instructed to arrest anyone caught littering around town. Police visibility is prevalent during Holy Week as men in uniform inspect the shoreline on a daily basis.
Despite these measures, personnel from the Santa Fe Department of Public Services (DPS) still picked up pieces of trash left by tourists by the shoreline.
On Black Saturday (March 31), Esgana along with five personnel from the Santa Fe DPS and Santa Fe Police Station inspected portions of the coast from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., the fourth inspection done by the local officials of Santa Fe since March 28.
Santa Fe tourism officer Melanie Sasota-Loyao, who led the March 28 inspection along with representatives from the Cebu Provincial Tourism Office, said resort owners and guests were reminded to keep their surroundings clean and the shore free from any obstructions.
She said tourists were prohibited from erecting tents within 20 meters from the sea.
“That’s why we designated a tent city for them. These obstructions can cause accidents, and we are preventing these from happening,” said Loyao.
“We have to inculcate a culture of responsible tourism here. Otherwise, we may end up like Boracay, which is the very thing we’re trying to avoid,” she added.
While there are programs and initiatives implemented in Santa Fe in line with Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, Esgana admitted they lacked the budget to sustain them.
This is the reason why the municipal council enacted an ordinance that collects P30 for every tourist visiting Santa Fe town, regardless of their nationality and length of stay.
“We believe that P30 is not much. As a fourth–class town, where can we get funds to maintain the cleanliness of our area? The proceeds of the ecological fee will be used for our programs on solid waste management, tourism and to capacitate our barangays to comply with the solid waste management programs,” explained Esgana.
Paying the ecological fee, however, is not a license to trash the island.
Marivic Raffiñan, a domestic tourist, agreed that it was every tourist’s responsibility to take care of Santa Fe.
Raffiñan, however, noted that garbage volume this year was relatively lesser than last year when she first visited the town together with her husband Paul.
“There were still some pieces of garbage left behind, but we saw some people who returned for them to dispose them properly,” said Raffiñan.
Raffiñan said they did not mind paying the P30 ecological fee per person.
“It’s not like we’re paying it every day. As tourists, we really have to be responsible. Because it will be a great loss for everyone, especially for Cebuanos, if Santa Fe will totally close down,” she said.
Garbage management measures
Esgana, during Wednesday’s press conference, also revealed that the DENR has issued a closure order last September 2017 on the town’s dumpsite located in Barangay Maricaban.
This pushed the LGU into fully implementing Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
“Our target is for every household and establishment to do their parts. We instructed them to come up with means to generate zero waste. This means that their wastes such as plastics and kitchen wastes must be converted into something that other people can still use,” explained Esgana.
Since the closure of the dumpsite, Esgana said some establishments decided to lease a private area where they set up material recovery facilities (MRF).
“They dump their kitchen wastes and other biodegradable wastes in the MRF while they sell their plastic products and other recyclable wastes,” Esgana said.
Like Cebu City, Santa Fe has also strictly implemented a “No Segregation, No Collection” policy. Those found to violate the policy will be fined from P1,000 to P500,000 depending on the gravity of the offense.
Private establishments found guilty of violating the policy face revocation of business permits and licenses to operate. /WITH REPORTS FROM CRIS EVERT LATO-RUFFOLO
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