DOT: Nickelodeon project in Coron to push through

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 1) — The Nickelodeon resort developer is still bent on building its controversial theme park in Coron, Palawan, the Department of Tourism (DOT) confirmed.

"They're going to pursue that. The owner went to us... this year," DOT Secretary Wanda Teo told CNN Philippines' The Source on June 1. "They told us, 'We are not going to destroy the corals. The restaurant will be floating, and you will be able to see [the corals]... Of course we know that we will preserve the place.'"

Coral World Park Undersea Resorts was first reported in January to have plans for an underwater theme park in Coron with Nickelodeon's parent company Viacom International Media Networks. The plan drew flak from environmentalists and citizens, who raised concerns about its effects on the marine ecosystem.

The developer has since clarified that the project is not an underwater theme park but a "resort and attraction... which we are designing as an undersea attraction with an ocean conservation."

Related: Nickelodeon resort will be on land - developer

The developers were also reported to have shared their initial plans with the local government, who first told CNN Philippines that they did not receive an application for the project yet.

Related: Nickelodeon resort developers submit letter of intent to Coron gov't

She also added that condominium units may also be built on land, but it is not clear if this is from the same developer.

"Actually [there is] a place there where they will be building condominiums. They have already identified the place," she added.

Teo said that it was not her office that directly coordinated with Coral World Park, but she welcomed the development as long as it did not destroy the corals.

The DOT has since released a clarification, saying, "From a tourism perspective, the DOT is excited about the idea because this would attract both local and foreign tourists."

"With regard to the approval of such a concept, the DOT would properly refer the matter to the appropriate agencies that can evaluate and decide on it," the statement read.

Coral World Park has since clarified with CNN Philippines that "no master plan has been revealed to the public" and following international standards, "everything is still in the planning stages."

LGU, DENR not notified yet

However, Coron Counselor and Tourism Committee Chairman Michael Sadhwani told CNN Philippines that there has been "no formal communication" given to the local government since their initial meeting.

"We'd like to inform you there has been no formal letter of intent that has been received by the [LGU] of Coron, both [in] legislative and executive [offices]," Sadhwani said.

In a press statement released on June 8, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu also confirmed the Department also did not receive any formal communication from the project.

"We are, however, trying to find out the specifics of this supposed project even as we await the formal receipt of the said proposal," the statement said.

"The Department [of Environment and National Resources], in consultation with the key stakeholders shall conduct a thorough inquiry regarding the proposed project to ensure that ecological, social, economic and human interests are factored in into the project’s evaluation once received," it added.

He surmised that the developer was still coordinating with the national government, and trusted that the local government would still screen the project. Coral World Park would still have to go through the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and the Econ Board, an environmental committee, the councilor added.

"As of today, we can't say if we're pro or against it because we haven't received any documentation," said Sadhwani. "Obviously if they pass the process, walang problema yun [that's no problem]... you have a right to have a business. (If not), obviously, hindi ka makakabukas ng resort [you can't open a resort]."

Sadhwani said he thinks locals will be divided over the issue, but the local government must balance these views.

"The government has to have an equal decision... The government also naman cannot stop progress. It will also add to the economic development of the municipality," said Sadhwani. "They first have to pass all the necessary requirements."

China eyes theme parks in Masbate, Batangas

Teo also said that Chinese investors were looking into building hotels, casinos, and theme parks in different parts of the Philippines.

"They have already started buying lots to build... a theme park wherein they will have a hotel, resorts, airport-there will be [activities] in that place. Actually, Masbate will boom," said Teo.

She added that Chinese investors are also considering building a theme park in Batangas.

"There are other places they'd like to consider like Palawan, but they're looking for a big area. They're also considering Davao... They're still looking for areas. The investors are there... The money is there," said Teo.

She added they were also looking into building the "Philippine Center," a structure in Intramuros which will house the DOT and attached agencies.

Teo said all deals are still in the works "because we would like to make sure that when we do this, everything is within the law."