This is how the Virgin Island of Panglao, Bohol looks like now. There are no more shanties, stalls, or other structures on top of the sandbar. One could now see the pristine white sand and clear waters.
The new view is courtesy of the local government’s intervention in the island after a complaint was lodged on social media about the selling of overpriced seafood in the area. One group of tourists paid over P25,000 for a meal good for 13 people.
This controversy has affected tour operators which resulted in fewer bookings in the past days.
"Mukhang na-dry sila, nadismaya ba. Pati kami nadamay. Nahihiya kami sa issue," said Alexander Rollorota who books island hopping trips for a living by the Alona Beach.
Some tourists have also expressed their dismay over the issue.
"Nakakalungkot naman kasi masyadong sinamantala ang mga turista sa pagkain, ang pagpunta ng mga turista. Hindi naman dapat ganun," said Baby Sisayan who came all the way from Cavite for a vacation to Bohol.
But there are also those who appreciate Virgin Island in its pure state.
“Malinis siya. Wow! Andoon pa lang kami (sa malayo) as in, wow!” said Christian Paul Tappa.
The local government of Panglao in concurrence with the provincial government has decided to make permanent the closure of the island to tourism activities such as selling food, eating, snorkeling, and diving.
It will only be open for sightseeing and picture taking.
“It's really pristine now, it is really a jewel. The direction, the trajectory of both legislative bodies of LGU Panglao is just sightseeing na lang,” said Bohol Provincial Administrator Aster Caberte.
Balicasag Island, which is also near Virgin Island, is still open for tourists to enjoy.
More meetings are being held between both government units and stakeholders to further discuss the improvement of tourism activities in Panglao.
An investigation into an alleged fish and seafood cartel in Bohol is also underway.
“We’re talking about a reasonable range... You cannot dictate the price cap, all parties are looking at a reasonable range. The complaint was a wake-up call for us, for everyone and we are improving, doing something about it,” said Caberte. —Report from Annie Perez