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‘Drunken masters’

One of our readers reacted to our article regarding “Devolved but Undelivered” services from national to local government units. It turns out that the failure to deliver is not limited to Agriculture, Education and Health but also in various aspects of Tourism.

The reader pointed out how local government units have been collecting “Environmental Fees,” “Tourism-Visitors Fees” etc. but there is no known accounting or auditing or reports on how these fees are used or to what purpose. Our reader cited a couple of destinations such as Boracay Island and Cebu that are frequented by tourists and consequently, they all ask where the “Environmental Fee” or Tourism/Visitors Fees” go to.

Our reader shared: “The Boracay LGU has been charging an ‘Environmental Fee’ to tourists for over 20 years. The fee is collected before tourists can board bancas to go to the island. No one ever demonstrated how the billions of pesos collected were spent, considering that Boracay even had to be closed a few years ago to clean up the pollution.”

There was an official investigation at some point, but no Aklan official was ever charged. The fee was recently raised to P300 per tourist and still no one has explained where this money is going. As for “Visitors fees” I remember tourists mentioning a similar practice in Puerto Galera as they arrived and left the dock. Most people simply accepted it as a “standard practice” and didn’t mind because a hundred pesos or so was no big deal in the general scheme of things.

The problem is, when one LGU goes unchallenged or unregulated simply because of the devolution of authority, other LGUs start getting bright ideas. I recently learned that a few months back, August 2023 to be exact, the Lapu Lapu City LGU floated their plan to charge P100 per tourist and label it as an environmental tax. The twist was that Lapu Lapu City couldn’t figure out how to collect it, so the hotels were going to be obligated to be the collectors.

The councilors who floated the plan gave only one week notice of a public hearing, until resort owners and operators put up a strong opposition to the plan, forcing the city council to back down. The question is, in what other form