The municipality of El Nido is located on the northwestern tip of the Palawan mainland. It has a total land area of 465.10 km2 and 174,520 hectares of municipal waters, mainly in Bacuit Bay on the western side and Balayan Bay on the eastern side. It is bordered by the Linapacan Strait in the north, the South China Sea in the west, and the Sulu Sea in the east.
El Nido is a first class municipality (≥ P55 million average annual income), covering 18 barangays. As of 2007, El Nido had a total population of 30,249 people in 6,295 households. Eighty-five percent of the population resides in the rural barangays, with only 15% in the main Poblacion area. Sixteen of the 18 barangays are found along the coast. Its main industries are agriculture, tourism, and fisheries.
Archaeological evidence suggests that El Nido was inhabited as far back as 16,000 years ago. Artifacts discovered in Dewil Valley, New Ibajay last May 2011 were carbon-dated to be between 200 to 16,000 years old. A cremation burial site was dated to be 9,000 years old. Other main study sites are the Ille Cave and Rockshelter and Pasimbahan Rockshelter. Tiger bones (Panthera tigris) found in Ille Cave in 2004 and 2008 and dating back to at least 12,000 years ago are the first evidence of tigers in Palawan. A bracelet, also found in Ille Cave in 2008, is the first of its kind found in the Philippines. The bracelet is proof of El Nido’s ties to China, as similar bracelets have been unearthed in Hong Kong and China. Dr. Robert Fox’s excavations in Leta-Leta Cave in Lagen Island in the 1960s led to the discovery of artifacts dating back to the “Metal Period”.
El Nido traces its name to the Spanish words for “the nest”, after the nests made by the edible nest swiftlet (Collocalia fuciphaga). Tucked away in difficult-to-reach caves and crevices in the limestone cliffs, these nests (made of the bird’s saliva) are the nests prized by the Chinese and used in bird’s nest soup. But “El Nido” wasn’t El Nido’s original name.
The area’s first recorded name was “Talindak”, named after the Tagbanua community located in the present-day Sitio Langeb-Langeban in Barangay Aberawan. The Spanish colonizers renamed the area “Bacuit” in 1890. This is how Bacuit Bay got its name, which it retains to this day. Bacuit was formally renamed to “El Nido” in 1954 via Republic Act No. 1140.
El Nido’s population increased from 1,789 (1918) to 7,358 (1970), then to 27,029 (2000), then to 30,249 by year 2007. Northern Palawan was opened to commercial logging, mining, and fishing in the 1980s, creating tremendous incentives for migration and strong population growth in the 1980s. The 1980s was also when tourism started in El Nido, with the discovery of good scuba diving sites and the opening of El Nido Resorts (Miniloc Island Resort) in 1982.
HABITATS AND BIODIVERSITY
El Nido’s lowlands and mountains boast of five types of forest: lowland evergreen, semi-deciduous, forest over limestone (karst forest), beach, and mangrove forest. Beyond the shore, El Nido’s marine waters conceal seagrasses, seaweeds, coral reefs, and estuarine habitats. Together, the terrestrial and marine environment are home to six species of large, Palawan-endemic mammals, 16 species of Palawan-endemic birds (10 considered to be threatened), and 855 species of coral reef fish.
Bacuit Bay, with its 45 islands and islets, has been a protected area since 1984. Its declaration as a Marine Turtle Sanctuary in 1984 stemmed from the report of Ten Knots Development Corporation (TKDC), owner and operator of El Nido Resorts, that the area was a significant habitat for sea turtles. TKDC lobbied for the protection of the area and supported marine law enforcement. DENR’s Department Administrative Order 14 enlarged the area into a Marine Reserve in 1991 as it was included in the “Debt for Nature” swap program funded by WWF-US and administered by the Haribon Foundation. The zoning of the Marine Reserve came about in 1992 with DENR DAO 4. The Reserve was zoned into core, multiple use, and buffer zones. The administration of the Reserve was also transferred from the Pawikan Conservation Project to the El Nido Marine Reserve Management Board (ENMRMB).
Despite the existence of protection since 1984, the first stakeholders’ workshop was only conducted in 1996. The workshop was organized by the El Nido local government and the El Nido Foundation (ENF) in preparation for the implementation of the National Integrated Protected Areas Program (NIPAP). The products of this workshop include the Strategic Framework for the El Nido Marine Reserve Management Plan and the reorganization of the ENMRMB to follow the structure of a DENR Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). The NIPAP was implemented in 1997 to 2001 with funding provided by the European Union. In 1998, the area was declared by Presidential Proclamation 32 as the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA). The ENTMRPA spans 90,391 ha, with 36,018 ha of land and 54,303 ha of marine waters. It covers all 18 barangays of El Nido and an additional three barangays in Taytay. It is administered by the PAMB.
There are four main laws that affect the management of and the activities within the ENTMRPA: RA 7160 (Local Government Code of 1991), RA 7611 (Strategic Environmental Plan of Palawan Act, creator of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development [PCSD]), RA 7586 (National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992), and RA 8550 (The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998). Unfortunately, these four laws have different scales of applicability that can lead to conflicts in jurisdiction of the various governing bodies.
Take for example RA 8550 – The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. RA 8550 applies to all Philippine waters. It defines municipal waters as “not only streams, lakes, inland bodies of water and tidal waters within the municipality which are not included within the protected areas as defined under Republic Act No. 7586 (The NIPAS Law), public forest, timber lands, forest reserves or fishery reserves, but also marine waters included between two (2) lines drawn perpendicular to the general coastline from points where the boundary lines of the municipality touch the sea at low tide and a third line parallel with the general coastline including offshore islands and fifteen (15) kilometers from such coastline”. This means that the El Nido LGU has no jurisdiction over 54,303 ha of Bacuit Bay because of the NIPAS designation. Thus, the fishery permits that are granted by the LGU only apply to the waters outside the ENTMRPA. In addition, the PCSD can also issue fishery permits due to their jurisdiction over the whole of Bacuit Bay as granted by RA 7611. The Department of Agriculture (DA) can also establish fish refuges and sanctuaries in25-40% of fishing grounds. In municipal waters, the LGU is mandated to establish at least 15% of the total coastal area as a fish sanctuary.
The presence of many governing laws makes management somewhat complicated. As a result of these laws, three agencies have jurisdiction over Bacuit Bay and the surrounding land area: PCSD, El Nido LGU, and the ENTMRPA PAMB. Even though a policy that harmonizes the different laws has yet to be enacted, the different agencies are all involved in multi-stakeholder organizations that aim to manage the sustainable use of the resources within El Nido.
Cleland D, Muallil RN, Doctor MVA, Cabate RG, Nañola Jr. CL, Martinez RJS. El Nido, Palawan (in press)
History of El Nido. Talindak – Ang Opisyal na Pahayagan ng Pamahalaang Lokal ng El Nido (Talindak – The Official Newspaper of the Local Government of El Nido). Accessed 6 January 2012
National Statistics Coordination Board. 2010. Municipality: El Nido (Bacuit). Accessed 18 October 2010.
University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program Palawan Project
Varona BP. 2009. Exhibit reconstructs Filipino-Chinese cultural bond. The UP Newsletter (Vol 30, Issue 11). Accessed 6 January 2012
Varona BP. 2011. UP ASP unearths new finds in Palawan. The UP Newsletter (Vol 32, Issue 06). Accessed 6 January 2012
WWF-Philippines. 2005. El Nido: working together for environmental law enforcement (A case study in the Philippines). WWF-Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines. 41 p.