Published on : Friday, September 27, 2019
From the infinity pool of a special new beach resort in El Nido, a slither of paradise on the island of Palawan at the western edge of the Philippines, tourists can enjoy cocktails and walk all through on the white sandy beach and turquoise waters below.
The Maremegmeg Beach Club at £300 per night is the best example of modern boutique hotels that are fast coming up on Palawan, an island mostly defined as the Philippines’ “last environmental frontier”.
However, according to the latest study by NGO Global Witness, Maremegmeg is also an instance of the not so known side of the luxury tourism boom of Philippines; one that hardly features in any of the reviews on Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
Ruben Arzaga, a local environmental activist in September 2017 was shot dead while trying to take away illegally harvested timber on Palawan. Police held in custody two suspects known to be illegal loggers on suspicion of murder.
Arzaga is one of 12 local environmentalists who was murdered since 2004 to safeguard the forests of the island against illegal logging, much of it to build luxury hotels targeted at rich tourists from Europe, the US and beyond, as pointed by a group of Palawan-based NGOs.
In one particularly atrocious happening recounted in the Global Witness report an environmental activist was tortured to death and his body was buried on the beach.
Maremegmeg, which opened in 2018, is owned by a company belonging to a prominent local figure.
Proving responsibility for individual attacks remains difficult, particularly when police may be reluctant to look into influential figures and groups. However, the report shows a disturbing pattern of violence against Filipino citizens standing up against businesses in defence of the environment.