San Vicente, in the northwestern side of the main island of Palawan, has attracted visitors and investors with its pristine beaches, marine life, rice fields and 82,000 hectares of forests. Port Barton is famous among foreign backpackers and divers that would stop over in trips from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. The beautiful islands of Boayan, Turtle and German are visited for snorkeling and swimming. In recent years, there has been much interest in the 14-kilometer long beach, said to be the longest stretch of white sand in the country.
San Vicente has more than 165,000 hectares with landscapes that include rice fields, waterfalls, unique coastlines, mangroves, mountains and forests. The town is fairly new, having been founded only in 1972, with majority of its people as migrants from Cebu and indigenous peoples such as the Agutaynon, Tagbanua and Cuyonon. The population is only 31,000, and half of them are involved in agriculture. While the town is rich with natural resources, the poverty incidence is quite high. This is why the welfare of its people are high up in the goals of the Integrated Tourism Masterplan. Before a town can be a world-class destination, it should first be a livable community.
In creating the Integrated Tourism Master Plan, stakeholders such as residents, farmers and fishermen, investors, developers, local and national government, were consulted. We were required to coordinate and get approval from the Secretaries of the Climate Change Commission, Tourism, DENR, and the DPWH. Studies were done to determine vulnerabilities to climate change and reduce potential risks in environmental stability. We formed a multi-disciplinary team that included specialists in environmental planning, architecture, design, engineering, socioeconomics, institutional management, marketing and finance. We were required to base our plan on both conservative and aggressive visitor and population projections until 2044, even if the published national projections for visitor arrivals are only until 2016. The carrying capacity of the beach in a day is 362,500 people.
International beach destinations such as Copacabana in Brazil, Miami in Florida, and Nha Trang in Vietnam follow a 50-meter setback from the average high tide. In the Philippines, however, the required easement is only 25 meters. This is not sufficient considering risks such as rising sea levels and storm surges. The final approval was for a 30+20 meter setback. The no-build zone is within the first 30 meters from the average high tide mark, and there is a list of allowable uses within the next 20 meters. Within this buffer zone, there will be no permanent, habitable, and with-foundation structures. DPWH insisted that there be guidelines regarding the preservation of the existing tree line along the beach. The natural vegetation should not be compromised by buildings, even if they are in the list of allowable uses.
In areas that are found to have risks of flooding, adaptive architecture will be applied. There will be no bedrooms on the ground floor, and structures will be designed on stilts. These were based on studies of flood simulations for up to 100 years.
It truly was challenging, but very rewarding, to help create the master plan for the long beach in San Vicente. The many stakeholders had different, sometimes conflicting concerns. The masterplan aims to strike the balance between providing for the common good and respecting property rights, and encouraging investments while preserving areas of natural beauty.