Lio Tourism Estate, a masterplanned luxurious development in El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan – owned by Ayala, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines, and operated by one of its many subsidiaries, Ten Knots Philippines Inc. (TKPI) – encompasses a large 325-hectare site. As well as high-end hotels the resort contains its own private airport, Lio Airport, owned and operated by TKPI for the exclusive use of its aircraft. As with most airports worldwide the response to Covid-19 led to Lio Airport reducing operations, but by March 2022 about 600 passengers were flying in and out each day. AirSwift Philippines operates flights between Lio Airport and Manila. There is also a jetty port for visitors to embark on island-hopping boat trips. The tourism project, on a former copra (coconut) farm, began with construction of the airport and seaport to provide access, followed by accommodation and retail facilities. Shown below are satellite imagery and a site development plan published by a property firm.
But the Tagbanua Tandulanen Indigenous People (IP) claim that the project encroaches on their ancestral lands. In April 2021 their attorneys requested that the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Local Government Unit of El Nido cancel, revoke or deny applications for building permits and licenses for more than seven Ayala-owned businesses and projects in El Nido, including Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport. The IP group claimed ‘rampant and widespread’ proliferation of illegal transfers and conversion of their ancestral domain. On 15th March 2022, following reports of projects and activities that did not comply with Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) requirements, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) intervened in the land dispute, issuing a cease-and-desist-order (CDO) ordering temporary halt of projects in Barangays Libertad and Pasadeña. After issuing four notices to comply with the CDO NCIP issued a show cause order to TKPI on 13th February 2022. In March Tagbanua Tandulanen IP’s legal counsel said the group been sending letters to TKPI for two years without receiving a serious response and urged NCIP to maintain the CDO.
Extending northwards of the tourism estate developed area and Lio Airport is a 4.2 kilometre stretch of white sand beach, also part of the resort. In September 2017 the management of Lio Tourism Estate dismissed accusations that its recently opened upscale resort had blocked access to the public beach in front of it for residents of Barangay Villa Libertad. The issue stemmed from a complaint to the Palawan Provincial Board’s Environment Committee. A month previously Board Member Winston Arzaga said they had been asked by local officials to help resolve the issue, saying “The cause of it all is the access of local fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds which the Ayala management had somehow restricted.” A Safeguards Due Diligence Report for El Nido tourism development, prepared by the Tourism Infrastructure and Economic Zone Authority (TIEZA) for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), published in May 2021, includes notes of a consultation on fisheries management concerns and livelihood projects with Barangay Officials of Villa Libertad, which covers Lio beach, part of Lio Tourism Estate. Dwindling fish catch was the major fisheries issue identified by informants, resulting from overfishing and a reduced fishing area. Declining fish catch and reduced access to fishing grounds was also mentioned in relation to three other Ayala resorts in El Nido, on the islands of Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen.
More information about the land dispute and issues with access to fishing grounds related to Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport