No swimming ban in Puerto Galera despite poor water quality


NO, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco hasn’t broken out in blisters or rashes despite scuba diving recently in Puerto Galera, where some of its waters have been reported of poor quality by other government agencies.

In response to a reporter’s question about possible complaints from tourists of skin and respiratory infections after swimming in the popular tourism site, Frasco said, “The Department of Tourism [DOT] is not in possession of any data regarding any such information considering that is not in our primary mandate. Nevertheless, I dove there at Lalaguna, one of the most beautiful dive sites in Puerto Galera, and I’m still okay.”

There have been concerns that the oil spill due to the recent sinking of oil tanker MT Princess Empress off the coast of Oriental Mindoro last February 28, had already reached Puerto Galera. 

Frasco told a news briefing in Malacañang that despite the joint findings of the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), “No swimming ban has been indicated, only that the concerns have been expressed on the ingestion of water, and

therefore our perception of this joint statement is that the Puerto Galera tourism continues to be open.”

P5.3-M daily loss if tourist site is closed

Based on “statistics,” she noted that Puerto Galera’s closure will result in an estimated “loss of P5.3 million a day” for its tourism stakeholders. She noted that 11,000 workers depend on tourism for their livelihood in the municipality.

In a joint news statement, DENR and DOH said, “only 9 sampling stations have met the criteria for water quality guidelines set by DENR Administrative Order 2016-08,” out of the 35 stations sampled in Puerto Galera and its barangays. Those safe from “oil and grease contaminants” include Small and Big Lalaguna shoreline, Balete, Central Sabang Shoreline, Coco Beach, Batangas Channel, Paniquian, Balatero, and West San Isidro Bay. The DOH advised the public not to drink the waters from contaminated areas and to avoid consuming “contaminated fish, shellfish, and other seafood products.”

Both agencies attributed the water contamination in 26 sampling stations to the “presence of economic and human activities.” Exposure to contaminants “may also cause various skin diseases such as rashes and blisters. Oil and grease may also result in aspiration leading to respiratory diseases, while ingestion will cause gastrointestinal irritations, which may manifest acutely as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.” 

‘Book your vacations’

Frasco said she welcomed the report of both agencies, “especially considering that the nine sites identified [as safe from contamination], several of these are actually very prime dive sites for Puerto Galera, one of which I dove in recently…. With regard to the other areas that were not seen to have complied with the threshold set in the water quality test results, we are also pleased to receive the Department of Health position that the public is advised to proceed with caution.”

Last year, Puerto Galera generated over P500 million in visitor receipts, still 50 percent less than the P1.2 billion receipts of 2019, prior to the pandemic. “As far as international tourism is concerned, we want to be able to make sure that the viability of Puerto Galera as a tourism destination continues and that is why the [DENR and DOH] report indicating no direct link to the oil spill is something that we welcome positively.”

The Tourism chief also enjoined the public to travel, especially this “long weekend” as Malacañang has declared Friday, April 21, a regular holiday in observance of Eid al-Fitr, or the end of the  month-long Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. “Any touristic activity that you do within any of our local destinations will ultimately help a Filipino family. Let’s help our fellow citizens in tourism by booking our vacations with our families anywhere across the Philippines.”