Red tape spoils tourism in world-famous sandbar

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

A world-renowned sandbar draws tourists to Cagbalete Island year-round. But a signboard dismayed them this summer. “Closed for failure to secure mayor’s/business permit,” it blared across the entrance arch of their favorite Pansacola Beach Resort. The presence of 15 armed coastguards in fatigues and orange jumpsuits scared them. Yellow “Caution” tape barred even families of the resort owner and staff.

Resort manager Romel Pansacola has in fact been applying for business permit for months. But despite complete documentary requirements, the municipal hall of Mauban, Quezon keeps withholding it. Townsfolk grumble about red tape, conflict of interest, abuse of power, harassment and selective law enforcement.

Three past mayors had granted business permits to Pansacola Resort since 2012. Its operations spurred Mauban’s economy through boat charters, catering, gear rental, souvenirs and small beach camps.

Cousin Roberto Eleazar had sold part of the beachfront to Pansacola’s son as reward for relocating squatters to the other side of the island. When Eleazar passed away in the US, his siblings there sought renegotiation of Pansacola’s lot parcel. They assigned another cousin, Erwin Pastrana, as administrator.

After one unsuccessful try, Pastrana became Mauban mayor in May 2022. At the start of 2023 Pansacola filed for usual renewal of business permit, but was denied. In March 2023 he sent a demand letter, citing the Ease of Doing Business Law. Two weeks later municipal inspectors arrived and declared Pansacola’s papers lacking.

Pansacola appealed to the municipal administrator and the planning and development officer. Both replied that only the mayor was key to permit issuance. In August 2023, Pansacola received a second notice of supposed deficient documents. The following month the mayor ordered the resort’s closure.

In January 2024, Pansacola secured anew the requisite clearances for business permit. The licensing office chief told subordinates to refer the papers straight to the mayor. But the planning and development department refused to receive Pansacola’s application.

Last March 7, the licensing office and coastguards served a second closure order. They alleged that the resort was still running, although Pansacola merely entertained relatives. Visitors had to register with the municipal tourism office, as required for a boat ride.

On March 16, the tourism office stopped Pansacola’s grandson and friends from crossing to the island. An appointee of the mayor told the staff to alert him even on weekends, so he can sic cops on arrivals.

Meantime, mayor Pastrana remains a party to a lawsuit by the Eleazars. In one court hearing, the judge told him the Supreme Court had invalidated in 1987 all Cagbalete land titles dating back to four Pansacola brothers in 1859. To which the mayor retorted that, in such case, he would shut down all the island’s resorts since nobody has valid proof of ownership. But only Pansacola Beach Resort has been ordered close.

On March 25, Pansacola’s lawyers petitioned Anti-Red Tape Authority director general Ernesto Perez to intervene. They furnished Interior and Local Government Sec. Benhur Abalos a copy.

The law requires issuance of simple papers within three days and complex ones within seven. Denial must be fair, just and reasonable. The municipal hall holds copies of Roberto Eleazar’s Deed of Conditional Sale and Pansacola’s son’s proofs of payments. Only the Court, not mayor, has jurisdiction to rule on property rights or ownership.

Calls to the mayor’s office, 0427840922, and the municipal administrator, 09231599536, were unanswered.

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Turmoil also rocks famed tourist magnet Alona Beach in Panglao, Bohol. Elderly spouses Eteria and Wilfredo Flores are trying to retake their 1.1-hectare Alona Kew White Beach Resort from nonpaying lessors. So are the owners of four other bayside establishments.

Alona Kew had operated smoothly until the Guardo brothers, led by defeated congressional candidate Jonathan Guardo, offered to lease the Flores property with option to purchase. The contract seemed plain, promising the Floreses a steady P10-million monthly income. The Guardos also pledged to help secure a buyer for the resort for P1.5 billion.

On Jan. 30, 2023, the Floreses signed a lease contract with purchase option with the Guardos. But the couple’s dream of a cozy life turned into a nightmare. After a downpayment of only P5 million, all the Guardos’ 17 post-dated checks bounced. The municipal hall also blacklisted the Guardos for unpaid taxes and fees.

Town officials said the Guardos had leased two other resorts, a motel and a commercial building. All went bankrupt when the Guardos allegedly shirked on financial obligations.

The Floreses’ lawyer said the Guardos claimed to now own Alona Kew. This stained the resort’s reputation and confused the public.

Yet in a letter last March 31, 2024, the Guardos acknowledged inability to pay up. They claimed to have incurred and are striving to recoup huge expenses in remodeling guestrooms. They alibied Bohol tourism shrinkage for their huge losses.

Googling the name Jonathan Guardo will reveal past questioned transactions. The NBI arrested him in January 2010 for malversation of public funds for the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. He was charged with violating the Bouncing Checks Law and surrendered to the police in April 2013.

Refusal of the Guardos to pay their lease balance of P53 million and municipal taxes has forced the Floreses to assert their rights to repossess the resort. But the Guardos’ security guards bar the couple from entering their property.

Tourism business transactions need close monitoring by national and local agencies. Integrity of contracts must be upheld, especially in tourism on which the government banks for employment and revenues.

The Floreses stand not only for themselves but also for medium-size entrepreneurs who work hard and dream big. Regulators need their help.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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