Why development and change in El Nido can be a good thing

I find it curious whenever tourists staying in El Nido Town say “Ang saya naman ng buhay dito. Sana ganito nalang lagi. Sana hindi magbago”. (“Life is so good here. I hope it’ll always be like this. I hope it doesn’t change.”) Pardon my cynicism but tourists have a romanticized view of what it means to live in a small town like El Nido. While El Nido’s slower and idyllic lifestyle makes it conducive to tourists who stay for three, five, or maybe even 15 days, that same idyllic lifestyle remains a barrier to vital services for daily living, like 24-hour electricity, a sewage system, and a hospital.

El Nido is classified as a first-class municipality because of its tax collection, but it’s a first-class municipality where electricity only runs from 2pm to 6am the next day. This means that the elementary and high school students attending public schools sit in classrooms with no electric fans. The windows are opened to let the sunshine in. Municipal hall has its own generator so they can have electricity during business hours. The rationale for the limited electricity? There aren’t enough paying customers for the electric company to justify running their generators full-time. Not enough customers means they lose money.

The road going out of El Nido and on to Taytay barely qualifies for the name. The “road” is just hard-packed earth with potholes, gravel, and dust the whole way to Taytay. During the rainy season, the bus you’re riding in is likely to get stuck in the mud. The road only gets better from Taytay onward to Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. The reason for not spending the millions necessary for a good road? Again, not enough people using it.

El Nido is a first-class municipality with no hospital. The nearest hospital is in Taytay, two hours away by land. The best hospital in Palawan is in Puerto Princesa. If you want to give birth in a good hospital, you have to make the 5-6 hour land trip to Puerto Princesa. The Rural Health Unit as one doctor and a health center for over 30,000 residents.

El Nido has no centralized sewage system. Each household gets its water either from a deep-well or from a nearby stream or river. Sewage is either stored in underground septic tanks or discharged directly into the soil. Fifteen percent of the municipality’s total population lives in the poblacion (AKA El Nido Town), which leads me to wonder just how much fecal coliform is in the seawater directly fronting the poblacion.

The point of all this is that development and change are not inherently evil. I repeat, NOT EVIL. Development is not a bad thing. Development only becomes evil when it’s uncontrolled and the ones doing the developing don’t give a shit about the environment and the local community. Case in point: the dredging and pier extension in El Nido Town to accommodate the huge RoRo (roll on, roll off) barges. The barges would supposedly bring in more tourists but according to scientists from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, the dredging and pier extension will change the water circulation and sand deposition pattern in the embayment. You’d lose the sand on one side of the beach and still have to re-dredge the barge lane every 10 years.

But development has its upsides too. The influx of tourism resulted in increased income for the municipality. Not changing El Nido at all means limiting the opportunities of the people who live here. It’s in the delicate balance of development and preservation where success ultimately lies. I hope to be able to see it in the years to come.