No more seafood stalls are found on the Virgin Island in Panglao as the provincial government of Bohol closed it off to vendors, following allegations of overpriced food sold to tourists.
A photo sent by EJ de Guzman captured the nearly-empty sandbar on the morning of August 5, as juxtaposed to a photo by The Bohol Chronicle earlier this week where food vendors and tourists used to pack the Virgin Island.
This comes after a viral Facebook post by a female tourist, whose group of friends had been charged P26,100 for an assortment of seafood, fruit and drinks they ordered. Among the food they ordered included abalone, scallops, oyster, squid, sea urchin and banana, which were consumed by at least 13 people.
Bohol Gov. Aris Aumentado said the provincial government of Bohol suspended all tourism activities on the Virgin Island for an indefinite period.
“While LGU of Panglao has the primary jurisdiction over the establishments and the Protected Area Management Board over the island, the Provincial Government of Bohol, to the extent possible, will step in to ensure that there is a strike of balance and harmony in the enforcement of environment protection laws, tourism standards and the welfare of all stakeholders,” he added.
An estimated 13 food vendors were cleared from the island, according to the Office of the Bohol Governor.
On August 2, the Municipal Tourism Council recommended holding a “food street or night market” at the Panglao Plaza to help displaced vendors.
As part of the Panglao Island Protected Seascape (PIPS), the Virgin Island is considered a protected area, or ecologically rich and unique lands.
A protected area, according to Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems (E-NIPAS) Law, shall be “managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation.”
While island hopping operations will continue, the Virgin Island is restricted to sightseeing only, said Panglao Mayor Edgardo “Boy” Arcay.
Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said the department is coordinating with concerned agencies to address the alleged overcharging of food vendors on Virgin Island.
“The alleged overpricing of seafood by vendors in Virgin Island, Panglao, Bohol is a matter that the Department of Tourism takes seriously especially as it concerns the welfare of tourists whose continued support for our destinations is critical to the recovery of the tourism industry,” Frasco said in an August 2 statement.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also ordered Ariel Rica, head of the Bohol Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office to coordinate with the Municipal Government of Panglao to probe the matter.
Joining the investigation are officials of the Protected Area Management Board of the PIPS as Virgin Island is within their jurisdiction.