By Bohol Island News Staff| 11:25 PM January 13, 2020
Insisting that capitol authorities and marine conservationists should head to Lila and talk to him, town mayor Arturo “Jed” Piollo II ditched the special session of Sanggunian Panlalawigan (SP) that was supposed to discuss the controversial whaleshark activity in the municipality, Monday, January 13, 2020.
Piollo has earlier told local media that he had declined the SP invitation and about his preferred location in talking to provincial officials and marine protection group about the issue.
The joint committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Tourism, Agriculture and Fishery convened Monday as scheduled to discuss the recently established controversial Lila ‘butanding’ tourism attraction.
Board Member Restituto Auxtero, chairman of the committee on Natural Resources and Environmental, led discussion that proceeded despite the mayor’s absence.
The committee discussed the privilege speeches earlier delivered by board members Lucille Lagunay and Elpidio Jala as well as the sentiments of marine conservation groups.
Duly represented were the offices of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Department of Tourism (DOT) and the executive department through Provincial Administrator Kathyrin Pioquinto.
Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, executive director of Large Marine Vertebrate Research Institute Philippines (Lamave) presented their group’s research about whale sharks for the scientific inputs.
Following his absence, the SP has decided to invite the mayor again, but stressed that the discussion will be done at the Provincial Capitol and not in Lila.
“We will invite them again, we will not go there,” board member Ricky Masamayor said.
But Piollo reiterated that he will only talk to them in Lila, not elsewhere.
The committee hearing was called to tackle about the whale shark controversies in Barangay Taug in Lila particularly the reported feeding and physical interaction with the whale sharks, which has become Bohol’s newest tourist attraction that has received mixed reactions from the public.
Piollo opposed the SP’s plan to create a Provincial Ordinance regulating the whale shark activities in Lila.
For the mayor, it should be the Sanggunian Bayan and not the Sanggunian Panlalawigan that will draft the ordinance and decide what is best for its people.
Acting Bohol Governor Rene Relampagos had issued an executive order suspending all whale shark operations in Lila town.
He issued Executive Order 57 directing Lila Mayor Arturo Piollo II “to issue a moratorium on all whale shark interaction activities pending the passage of an ordinance regulating this tourism activity, duly approved by Sangguniang Panlalawigan in cordination with DENR, BFAR, DOT and all other concerned agencies and to implement all laws and regulations on the protection of marine species.”
The order was served at around 11:30 a.m. before on Monday, December 23, 2019 by provincial legal officer Nilo Ahat and Bohol Environment Management Officer Jovencia Ganub.
The EO further stated that the provincial government found out that the municipality of Lila has allowed the operation of such tourism activity albeit the absence of an ordinance/resolution regulating the whaleshark interaction.
It was also discovered by capitol that the private operator lacked the necessary government permits.
Further, boats ferrying tourists have docked at the shoreline without the necessary papers.
“We are not after the total ban of whale shark interaction but only on the ecological trapping of marine wildlife by provisioning and or act of feeding and luring and other activities which will harm these marine mammals and which are in violation of the law,” the EO said.
The whale shark activities in Lila met objections from environment advocates and organizations.
WWF Philippines said that whale shark feeding severely affects their life cycles, migration patterns, among others.
According to WWF-Philippines, as an endangered species, the migratory nature of these animals should be respected when it comes to tourism-related activities.
Whale shark feeding is becoming more rampant and by supporting this practice, people are inevitably supporting the modification of their natural behavior, which might severely affect their life cycle, reproduction patterns, and their safety, they continued.
WWF-Philippines strongly encourages local government units to look at whale shark ecotourism from both the lenses of community and economic development, as well as wildlife protection and conservation.