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Thread: BORACAY, Paradise or Paradise Lost?

  1. #21
    Palace: No summer shutdown for Boracay

    The Philippine Star 23 Mar 2018

    By ALEXIS ROMERO and ROBERTZON RAMIREZ – With Evelyn Macairan, Louella Desiderio

    Tourists may still visit Boracay during the Holy Week because the island will remain open during the summer season, Malacañang said yesterday.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the closure and rehabilitation of Boracay will not likely happen during the peak summer season.

    As this developed, the island’s tourism stakeholders appealed for reconsideration of the planned closure, but should the government push through with it, to make it a partial closure.

    The stakeholders, in a press conference, said the jobs of 36,000 people and some P56 billion in revenues from businesses in Boracay were at stake.

    Leonard Tirol, Boracay Foundation Inc. board member, also appealed to Duterte and other government officials to hear them first, especially with the expected influx of tourists during the holiday break.

    In another press briefing, Roque said: “Proceed to Boracay, especially since it’s Holy Week. I don’t think any closure will happen during the peak season of Boracay. We are looking at possibly, if the President finally accepts the recommendations, lean season.”

    Roque said the President has not made a decision on whether to accept the recommendation of the agencies tasked to look into the environmental problems of the island.

    The environment, interior and local government, and tourism departments have recommended the one-year closure of the world-famous tourist spot to allow its rehabilitation.

    “No specific instruction has been made by the President and if he has made a decision then, I would most certainly be the first to announce it. So, right now, there’s not been any decision,” Roque said. “Right now, it’s status quo.” President Duterte said on Tuesday he would support the recommendation of the interior and local government on the Boracay clean-up.

    Roque said he would ask Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco whether the environmental issues of Boracay would be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting on April 3.

    The President has likened Boracay to a cesspool because of the lack of sewerage system. He has also threatened to sue local officials who failed to address the island’s environmental problems.

    No new improvements during moratorium

    Roque also stressed that no new improvements would be allowed in Boracay while the six-month moratorium on new construction is in place, following reports about plans to establish two casino resorts in the island.

    “I don’t really know how the temporary closure will affect the casinos because they will have to construct. But what I do know is, there’s a moratorium right now in place for any further improvements in Boracay,” Roque said.

    “Warning to the developer, they should know that all their development plans hinges on what the President will decide on the issue of Boracay. But right now, there’s a moratorium on new improvements. So, they can’t build, even if they wanted to today, because of the moratorium,” he added.

    The two companies that are eyeing casino operations in Boracay are Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and Resorts World Manila, according to earlier reports.

    Roque said new establishments would have to comply with environmental standards, including the maintenance of a sewerage system.

    “If there is a closure or whatever happens to Boracay, what’s imperative now is to lay down expanded infrastructure for both drainage and sewage treatment facilities. And that’s the argument for closing Boracay, because you can’t dig the road, you can’t put wastewater treatments under the road, you can’t expand the road if you have people, tourists lurking around Boracay,” Roque said.

    “I do not know if zerodischarge will be part of the recommendation for Boracay, I would think, it should. But at the very least, all resorts should have their wastewater treatment facilibusinesses ties,” he added.

    Roque said Boracay is being rehabilitated to make it sustainable and conducive to huge developments and future businesses.

    The spokesman also refuted claims that the Boracay closure was intended to allow the entry of huge like casino operators.

    “I don’t think so. Because if they build a facility as big as they want to build, perhaps the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) will require what Shangri-La Boracay has, which is zero-discharge. When we talk about zero discharge, that means they are actually reusing all wastewater, treating it and reusing it either for flushing or for gardening purposes,” Roque said.

    “So, an establishment as big as this casino will probably be required to have not just an STP (sewage treatment plant), but the water recycling treatment facility. So the size will not matter for as long as necessary infrastructure are there.”

    Stakeholders want to be heard

    The group of tourism stakeholders in Boracay is seeking an audience with Duterte to present their proposed solutions and their point of view on the issue.

    Tirol said a partial closure would also be more acceptable so as not to adversely affect tourism in the island. He added it should also not be done during the peak season.

    Tirol said the closure should be done September to November, when only a few tourists are expected to visit Boracay, instead of April when most Koreans and other nationalities travel to the island.

    But others suggested that the partial closure be done in June or the rainy season.

    Jose Clemente III, Tourism Congress of the Philippines president, said “what we are looking for is a general dialogue between the government and stakeholders” and at least a year to prepare before a shutdown would be enforced.

    Aside from the partial closure, the stakeholders are also proposing to give them 60 days, from April to May, to undertake individual rectification, clean-up and rehabilitation of their respective properties.

    They also proposed that the government shut down only the establishments that violated the environmental and zoning regulations and the submission of the assessment of the solutions before the 60day period ends.

    Clemente said they were optimistic that the President and all concerned government agencies involved in the issue would listen.

    “More than the effect of closure to individual business entities, the contribution of this (island) to the country’s economy cannot be disregarded,” the stakeholders said in a statement.

    Sonia Lazo, managing director of Intas Destinations, warned it would take a year or two before the Philippines can regain the country’s tourism salability if Boracay will be closed.

    “We are off here in our position in the world travel industry, but once we have negative news like the closure of Boracay, then it will fall down. It will all crumble. A lot of hard work for all of us again,” Lazo said.

    “Our recovery will be far more difficult,” she said, specifically citing the European market.

    Reacting to the Department of Tourism (DOT)’s claim that tourists can visit other destinations, Clemente pointed out that the readiness, capacity and security of other destinations should be addressed.

    While the issue on Boracay closure is raging, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it will improve the infrastructure in the island to make travel more convenient.

    In a statement, the DPWH Region 6 Director Wenceslao Leaño reported to Public Works Secretary Mark Villar that the construction for the P220-million access road project to Caticlan Airport is already underway, along with the improvement of Boracay Circumferential Road with an allocation of P50 million.

  2. #22
    Palace defends $500-M casino-resort plan in Boracay

    Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

    Posted at Mar 22 2018 02:48 PM

    MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday defended the government’s approval of the construction of a casino-resort in Boracay even after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a rehabilitation of the island paradise due to its worsening water pollution problem.

    Macau casino giant Galaxy Entertainment and its Filipino partner, Leisure and Resorts World Corp, are expected to start construction of a $500 million integrated resort on a 23-hectare property in Boracay next year after they signed a provisional license with the state’s gaming regulator.

    Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the main reason of the President for ordering the rehabilitation of the island was its poor sewerage system which has led to wastewater being dumped to the sea. He said the planned casino construction will surely not skirt its obligation to have its own water treatment facility.

    “An establishment as big as this casino will probably be required to have not just an STP (sewage treatment plant) but a water recycling treatment facility,” Roque said in a news conference in Malacañang.

    “The size will not matter for as long as the necessary infrastructure are there.”

    The government is planning a closure of Boracay to tourists this year to give way to a massive cleanup.

    The government granted the provisional license for the construction despite the President’s imposition last month of a moratorium on the construction of new casinos.

    Roque earlier explained that the deal may have been in the works long before the President issued the directive.

    Nonetheless, he warned the casino developer that “they should know all development plans hinge on what the president plans on Boracay.”


    Boracay tourism stakeholders, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the planned casino construction.

    Boracay Foundation board member Connie Helgen said the island, known for its picturesque waters and sunsets, should not be marketed as a gambling destination.

    Helgen said the island's natural resources, water activities, and booming night life are enough to attract tourists to the island and sustain the livelihoods of the locals.

    "Boracay island is for beach lovers. Boracay is a wholesome destination. Why go to Boracay to play casino? There are so many casinos in Manila and in Macau," Helgen said.

    "Having a casino here would just affect the social environment of Boracay. The influence of casino to the people there, there's no telling what will happen. We hope the President will reconsider.

    Construction of the casino will take 3 years and will generate "hundreds of jobs," Galaxy vice chairman Francis Lui said. The joint venture expects $100 million in gaming revenues from the project once it is operational, he said.

    "What excited us, one of the reasons, has to be the new airport which has been built last year, giving direct access to international market to bring in some high-end customers," Lui said.

    Galaxy had consulted Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp on the project as early as July last year, said PAGCOR chairperson Andrea Domingo.

    Domingo said the integrated resort would be built on "raw land." She earlier said that Galaxy had assured Duterte during a recent meeting that the company would preserve the environment.

    Leisure and Resorts World founder Alfredo Benitez, an incumbent congressman, said he expected Galaxy to preserve the environment like it did in its projects in Macau and Hong Kong.

    Benitez, an administration supporter, is being considered as one of the possible candidates in the senatorial lineup of PDP-Laban, according to the ruling party’s stalwarts, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aqulino Pimentel III.

    - with Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

  3. #23
    ^ This is the type of news that really gets us. You want a one year moratorium on all construction and development and yet you have this going on. What are we supposed to think?

  4. #24
    Compliant resorts can remain open during Boracay closure, but…

    By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo - March 26, 2018

    COMPLIANT resorts in Boracay will be allowed to operate after April 26, the possible date of closure of the island. The punch line is, tourists won’t be able to set foot on it and will be physically blocked at the jetty port, according to an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

    “We’re not shutting down the businesses on the island, that’s clear,” DILG Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Epimaco V. Densing III said in an interview with CNN Philippines’s The Source. “Those who are compliant can still be open. Those who are noncompliant, we will close them. The irony is, we will block their guests at the jetty port. We will have a system where foreign and local tourists will not be allowed to enter the island. [Compliant resorts] can operate; they just won’t have guests.”

    This developed as the Department of Tourism (DOT) said it was already reaching out to popular online travel-booking sites to help tourists rebook their vacations in Boracay without penalty.

    In text message to the BusinessMirror, DOT Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Communications and Special Projects Frederick M. Alegre said: “Communications with them are ongoing. We started with TripAdvisor because we have an ongoing project with them.”

    Other popular booking sites include Agoda, and, which have varying policies on issuing refunds for customers, which depend on a site’s agreement with the individual hotels.

    But he expressed confidence that these booking sites will allow refunds due to “force majeure, because it’s a much-needed environmental cleanup from human-induced damage.”

    He added that local airlines have already said they would issue refund on tickets issued to Boracay-bound passengers and waive rebooking fees. “If the airlines can do it, why not the hotels and resorts, and tour operators?” Alegre asked.

    According to Agoda, “A force majeure event is any event beyond the ‘Covered Parties’ control and can include, but not limited to, natural disasters, weather conditions, fire, nuclear incident, electro-magnetic pulse, terrorist act, riots, war, arson attacks, insurgency, rebellion, armed hostilities of any kind, labor disputes, lockouts, strikes, shortages, government actions or restraints, pilferage, bankruptcy, machinery breakdown, network or system interruptions or breakdown, internet or communications breakdown, quarantine, epidemic, pandemic, etc.”

    Research done by TripAdvisor showed that Boracay was the second most viewed city in the Philippines after Manila, for the period January 2015 to September 2017.

    The research also noted that “travelers from the long-haul flight countries tend to click to book accommodation for their Philippines holidays over 70 days before their travel. On the other hand, markets like Singapore, China and South Korea click to book their stay less than two months prior to travel.” The long-haul destinations include the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, reflecting the top long-haul tourist markets in Boracay.

    Data from the DOT showed foreign tourists in Boracay last year reached some 1.05 million, most of whom came from China (375,284); South Korea (356,644); Taiwan (40,802); the US (22,64; Malaysia (20,585); the UK (17,416): Saudi Arabia ((15,944); Australia (15,365); Russia (14,074); and Singapore (9,897).

    Task Force Boracay, which is composed of the DILG, DENR and DOT, has recommended to President Duterte to put Boracay under a state of calamity, and close it for six months to allow rehabilitation work to commence.

    Meanwhile, Densing told this paper that local executives, who were sitting in office starting 2008, will be charged with administrative offenses for allowing the environmental and easement violations on the island. The DOT determined that Boracay’s carrying capacity had been breached in 2008.

    “The case buildup is from 2008…serious negligence of duty. Mayor [Ciceron] Cawaling is the same mayor during that time,” he stressed. John Yap was the mayor of Malay from 2010 to 2016, before being succeeded by Cawaling.

    The DILG official was silent, however, on the culpability of local executives from the DENR who reportedly failed to enforce environmental laws, such as the Solid Waste Management Act and Clean Water Act. But DILG Officer in Charge Eduardo M. Año has said DENR officials would not be spared from his agency’s investigation.

    Densing told CNN Philippines that the DILG has been gathering evidence on these local executives for the last three weeks. “We met last Friday with all the lawyers and the Boracay investigative unit of the DILG. We’ll be drafting a complaint by this week, and hopefully we can give the same complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman before April 14.”

    He said those to be charged with administrative offenses, “initially, we’re looking at local chief executives, most probably the mayor, most probably the Municipal Council, wipe out sila, the barangay captains, and even the governor. The only thing is, the gathering of evidence on the governor isn’t complete.”

    Carlito Marquez was the Aklan governor in 2008 until 2013, while Florencio Miraflores is the incumbent, and has been governor since 2014.

  5. #25
    Construction of casino contradicts moves to rehabilitate Boracay — Alejano

    Published March 29, 2018 1:09pm


    For Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano, the construction of a casino in Boracay Island contradicts the government's move to clean it up, as it will only aggravate the environmental issues already hounding the popular tourist destination.

    In a statement, Alejano expressed his opposition to the construction of the $500-million casino in Boracay to be operated by Macau-based company Galaxy Entertainment Group.

    The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) signed the provisional license for the casino resort on March 21, or just about a month before the recommended six-month closure of Boracay for rehabilitation starting April 26.

    "Kung ang talagang hangarin ng Pangulo ay ang pagsasaayos at pagbabalik ng ganda ng Boracay, isang malaking pagkakamali ang pagtatayo ng casino sa isla," Alejano said.

    "This is a contradiction amid the supposed cleanup of Boracay. The approval of the construction of a casino just after the orders of the President of a close-down is highly suspicious," he added.

    Alejano said that if the government still envisions Boracay as a top tourist destination in the world, then it should put more consideration on its environmental well-being than affording favors to foreign companies.

    "I understand that we should not prohibit the development of Boracay Island, but the development should first and foremost respect the environment," he said, noting that it was the purpose of House Bill 7077 that he filed.

    The lawmaker stressed the need for strict regulation on the utiliization and development of the island resort in compliance to the defined land use plan.

    A Boracay Island Council should also ensure that all plans, policies and projects for the island are coordinated and consistent, he added.

    "We will reap more benefits through environmental protection rather than solely looking at businesses which only provide short-term profits but destroy our environment in the long run," Alejano said.

    Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu himself also admitted that there is a contradiction as regards the rehabilitation efforts in Boracay and the planned construction of the casino there. — LA, GMA News

  6. #26
    DENR chief admits contradiction in casino construction and rehab efforts in Boracay

    Published March 26, 2018 6:51pm


    BORACAY, Aklan — A Macau-based casino operator may have secured a provisional license to operate a $500-million casino in Boracay, but it will still have to meet Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) requirements before it can build structures on the island.

    In an ambush interview after meeting with Boracay stakeholders, Cimatu acknowledged that moves to free up space in Boracay seem to be contradicted by the plan of Galaxy Entertainment Group to construct a casino in a 23-hectare property on the island.

    When asked if there is a contradiction, Cimatu said: ‘’There is. Talagang ganun nga.’’

    Cimatu said he has tasked the DENR ecosystems research and development bureau to determine Boracay’s carrying capacity, or the maximum number of people that could fit in the island.

    “The first research was 10 years ago and at the time they said that it’s already about to reach the end of its carrying capacity. That was 10 years ago,’’ said Cimatu.

    Cimatu said the new study will be “the biggest factor’’ in the environmental assessment the DENR will make when it decides whether to grant the casino an environmental compliance certificate (ECC).

    “It will be science-based and it will be on this carrying capacity,’’ said the environment secretary.

    An ECC is required before construction of a new structure can begin on the island.

    As of now, Galaxy has yet to submit application documents to the DENR, Cimatu said.

    PAGCOR, Galaxy, and its Filipino partner Leisure and Resorts World Corporation signed last week the provisional license for the planned integrated resort casino, which can have up to 250 rooms.

    Rehabilitation efforts in Boracay began in February after President Rodrigo Duterte called the world-famous island destination a “cesspool.”

    The President’s statement triggered a crackdown on establishments in the island over violations of environmental laws.

    Some structures were found to be illegally built on wetlands. Hundreds were found to have violated easement rules or were discovered to have failed to connect to a proper sewerage system.

    Given the need for massive reconstruction in the island, the DENR, along with the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Department of Tourism recommended Boracay’s closure for six months starting on April 26.

    President Duterte has stated that he is inclined to follow the recommendation but has yet to issue a final, official order. — RSJ, GMA News

  7. #27
    DENR wants illegal land titles on Boracay cancelled

    By: Nestor P. Burgos Jr. - @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:24 PM April 03, 2018

    ILOILO CITY - The government is still seeking the cancellation of land titles issued illegally by personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR) on Boracay Island seven years ago.

    The case against eight DENR personnel in Western Visayas found guilty of administrative liabilities for the issuance of the land titles has not been resolved with finality even as the agency is cracking down on environmental violators in Boracay.

    The DENR central office has filed complaints for the cancellation of titles and reversion against 18 title holders for 21 homestead patents covering 70,573 square meters or 7.05 hectares.

    The Office of the Solicitor General representing the DENR filed the complaints involving seven of the homestead patents in courts in the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, according to documents from the DENR Western Visayas office.

    The homestead patents were issued to lots ranging from 58 square meters to 14,748 sqm located in Barangays Balabag and Manoc-Manoc, two of Boracay’s three villages.

    The complaints involved homestead patents issued to Ramon Cojuangco Jr., Luna Villaruz, Alicia Sacapano, Juvy Gross, Dolores Latoy, Andro Gabay, Haide de los Santos, Araceli Gabay, Geovanni Pascual, Nelly Mancera, Jean Castillo, Dolores Sacapano, Rosemarie Bettschen, Nora Castillo, Jocelyn Sualog, Naomi Sastre, Belinda Martinez and Amalia Solis.

    The case stemmed from the issuance of the patents to property occupants from November 2009 to December 2010.

    A homestead patent is a mode of acquiring a title for public lands areas categorized as alienable and disposable and which are used for agricultural purposes.

    After an internal investigation in 2011, the DENR declared the issuance of the homestead patents as invalid. It said the issuance of homestead patents was irregular because the lots involved were commercial or residential but declared as agricultural.

    The agency relieved and filed administrative complaints against several of its personnel for issuing the homestead patents, issuing multiple patents to a patentee when the law allows only one, and issuing patents to lots covering or overlapping the 15-meter road easement.

    In a 38-page decision issued on April 27, 2017 and released on May 9, 2017, then Environment Secretary Regina Lopez found eight DENR personnel in Western Visayas guilty of administrative liabilities.

    Lopez ordered the dismissal from service of Pedy de Pedro (land management specialist) and Algaro Nonan (deputy public land inspector) who were found guilty of grave misconduct and dishonesty.

    Merlene Aborka (Boracay community environment and natural resources officer) and Antonio Luis (officer-in-charge of the Aklan provincial environment and natural resources office) were found guilty of gross neglect of duty and meted each a suspension of six months without pay.

    Also meted with administrative sanctions were Emmanuel Tipgos (engineer) who was found guilty of simple misconduct and simple dishonesty and meted a six-month suspension without pay.

    Mamerto Caballero (chief, regional surveys division) was ordered suspended for three months without pay for simple misconduct and simple neglect of duty.

    Althea Acevedo (chief, technical services section) and Romulo Sumaculub (chief, original and other surveys division) were each meted a three-month suspension without pay for simple neglect of duty.

    The decision is pending an appeal before the office of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

  8. #28
    Environmental issues have been hounding Boracay for 20 years

    Inquirer Research / 07:23 AM April 04, 2018

    Coliform bacteria scare and other environmental issues have been hounding Boracay Island in Aklan province over the past 20 years, mostly blamed on inadequate septic and sewage systems.

    Because of the drop of tourist arrivals in 1997 due to the increase in coliform levels, Boracay built a potable water supply system, sewage treatment plant and solid waste disposal system that was run by the Philippine Tourism Authority.

    Seven years later, in 2004, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported that the coliform crisis persisted as not all businesses on the island to the sewage system.

    At that time, only 50.5 percent of hotels and restaurants and only 24.9 percent of the households had installed pipelines connecting to the centralized sewage treatment plant that began operations on the island in 2003.

    In 2009, after waters off Boracay were contaminated with fecal coliform generated by human wastes, Boracay Island Water Co. won the contract for the project to give Boracay improved supply of potable water and efficient sewage system.

    Algal blooms appear

    In 2011, a study conducted by the McKeough Marine Center, which is based at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, said that reefs in Boracay had reached an alarming state of deterioration and urgently needed protection and rehabilitation.

    Beginning in 2015, residents observed that algal blooms began to appear as early as January or February and occurred longer.

    Before, the algal blooms appeared only in March and April, and only in the area where tourism development was first concentrated.

    Algal bloom along Boracay’s shoreline indicated water pollution resulting from “poor waste management with sewage being dumped into the waters,” the DENR said.

    Many business operators and residents claimed that the algal bloom was seasonal and “natural,” but environmentalists said it was an indication of feces and other waste materials polluting the water.

    The DENR said the Environmental Management Bureau in Western Visayas reported that coliform bacteria levels in a water sample taken from a drainage outlet that emptied into the sea at Sitio Bulabog exceeded safety standards.

    The coliform bacteria levels reached 47,460 mpn (most probable number) per 100 millimeter. The safe level for water for swimming and other human contact activities is 1,000 mpn/100 ml.

    Apart from the serious health and sanitation hazards, coliform bacteria found in human and animal waste could also adversely affect marine life and coral reefs.

    Source: Inquirer Archives

  9. #29
    Duterte, Cabinet to tackle details of Boracay rehabilitation

    By: Ben O. de Vera, Leila B. Salaverria - @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:24 AM April 04, 2018

    Proposals on how to clean up and rehabilitate Boracay Island may finally be discussed when President Rodrigo Duterte meets with his Cabinet on Wednesday, according to Malacañang.

    Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the interagency task force had submitted a detailed justification for its suggestion to shut down the island for six months.

    The task force is made up of the Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of the Interior and Local Government.

    The Department of Trade and Industry, for its part, proposed that the closure be done in phases instead for the sake of workers and businesses on the island.

    “There’s a Cabinet meeting. The final action on Boracay may be taken up there,” Guevarra said.

    On Monday, he said the Palace had asked the task force to elaborate on its proposal for a six-month total closure of Boracay, since it initially sent a two-paragraph recommendation.

    Malacañang has received the new report, Guevarra said on Tuesday.

    The Office of the President will study the different proposals on Boracay and will make its own recommendation to Mr. Duterte.

    The President has ordered the cleanup of the resort island after describing it as a cesspool due to the lack of proper sewage facilities.

    A temporary closure of Boracay will have a minimal impact on the economy, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

    Neda Director Reynaldo R. Cancio said on Tuesday that a six-month closure of the island would reduce GDP (gross domestic product) growth at the most by 0.1 percentage point.

    Neda Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon nonetheless said the government would ensure that the welfare of small businesses and their workers was protected.

    Edillon called on local government units to coordinate closely with the Department of Tourism for possible placement of the workers in nearby establishments not affected by the closure.

  10. #30
    Boracay woes show failure of local gov’t

    By: Nestor P. Burgos Jr. - @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer / 07:24 AM April 03, 2018

    (First of three parts)

    BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan - On the beach of Bulabog along the eastern coastline of Boracay, Ming Chen, her three female friends and their children are picking up trash.

    They are doing their share in keeping Boracay a “jewel” island, said Ming, a resident of Hong Kong who spends every year up to 10 days here, her favorite vacation place, for the past 20 years.

    She is saddened that the island has “really evolved not for the better.”

    Days earlier, the Duterte administration announced that it would shut down the world-renowned tourist destination to deal with its worsening environmental and other problems.

    “You just want to do what you can,” Ming told the Inquirer. “But who is really responsible [for] cleaning up? Our children have grown up on these beaches.”

    Many residents and business operators, who support the national government’s crackdown on violations of environmental and local laws, want only offenders to be held accountable, especially those who have failed to enforce the laws and regulations on the 1,032-hectare island.

    The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is looking into administrative and criminal charges against local officials and private individuals who allowed the unregulated development of the island and failed to stop the illegal discharge of sewage, the building of structures in wetlands and forest areas, and other wrongdoing.

    Violations of ordinances

    Malay municipality, which has jurisdiction over Boracay, has approved at least 52 ordinances to protect the environment. These cover marine conservation and protection, garbage and sanitation, zoning and construction regulation, and even stray dogs, smoking, signs and billboards.

    But residents and tourists have lamented the wanton violation and disregard of these laws.

    “We … are bearing the brunt because of these corrupt and negligent officials,” said one woman, who asked not to be named as she was related to some of the officials.

    One key measure, Municipal Ordinance No. 188, which was passed in 2003, calls for mandatory connection to the sewerage system of all commercial establishments and homes within 61 meters of the system.

    Those outside are required to build sewage or wastewater treatment plants.

    Violators face a fine of P2,000, cancellation or denial of business permits, and imprisonment of one day to six months.

    Instead of complying with the law, many commercial and residential buildings discharge illegally into canals intended only for rain and surface run.

    Revising local laws

    Local officials have also revised some ordinances to cater to the tourism boom, further straining the island’s natural resources.

    In 2013, the municipal council passed Ordinance No. 328, which allows the construction of up to five-story (16-meter) buildings on lots of 5,000 square meters to 20,000 sq m (two hectares) and six-story (20-meter) buildings on lots of at least two hectares.

    It revised the law that allowed only up to four-story buildings on lots of at least 1,000 sq m. Originally, only single-story structures made of local materials were allowed.

    “[Municipal] and provincial officials have been complacent and helpless [in enforcing the rules and regulations],” said an expatriate, who operates a business on the island.

    Violations are tolerated due to political accommodations by officials who come from a few intertwined and entrenched families, the expatriate said.

    Ciceron Cawaling is serving a fourth term as Malay mayor until 2019. He occupied the post from 2001 to 2010.

    John Yap served as mayor for two terms from 2010 to 2016. He is the son of Jose Yap, a former Malay mayor and former Aklan provincial board member.

    Environment, terminal fees

    Local officials are also being investigated in connection with the collection and use of environmental, terminal and other fees from tourists.

    Municipal Ordinance No. 250, passed in 2005, mandates the collection of an environmental fee every time a tourist goes to the island. The fee goes to a trust fund.

    Though the fund is allocated “exclusively for environmental and tourism programs and projects” in Malay, the amount is shared by the municipal government (85 percent) and provincial government (15 percent).

    From P50, the environmental fee was increased to the current P75.

    The fees collected at the Caticlan port significantly increased from P34.64 million in 2010 to P116.48 million in 2017. Total collection from 2010 to 2017 reached P685.64 million.

    Municipal officials have repeatedly said the fees are used for environmental projects and expenses, especially garbage collection and transfer from Boracay to the mainland.

    No regular, detailed report

    But there has been no regular and detailed reporting of these expenses.

    “They are not transparent at all with these fees,” said the expatriate, who has been living on the island for 30 years but asked not to be identified so as not to antagonize the officials.

    Cawaling has denied being remiss in his responsibilities, stressing that the problems and concerns of Boracay could not be solved by the municipal government alone.

    He said he was ready to face any charges to be filed by the national government against him.

    Officials to be charged

    Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III of the DILG, chair of a 12-member special investigating team, said a complaint for serious neglect of duty would be filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against officials on or before April 14.

    Asked who would be named respondents, Densing said these would likely include “many” officials of Malay town.

    He said that aside from elected officials, the respondents would include those responsible for issuing building permits.

    Erring DENR personnel

    Residents and business operators are also demanding that officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism also be investigated for the widespread violation of environmental and other laws and regulations.

    On April 27 last year, then Environment Secretary Regina Lopez found eight employees of the DENR office in Western Visayas guilty of administrative offenses related to irregularities in the issuance of homestead patents in Boracay.

    The homestead patents, which are intended for agricultural lands, were issued by the DENR employees although most of the properties have been used for commercial and residential purposes, according to a department investigation.

    Lopez ordered the dismissal of two employees for issuing homestead patents covering 31 lots with a total area of 9.75 hectares. She suspended two others for six months and another two for three months.

    The decision has been under appeal and is pending in the office of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

    In September last year, the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of Aklan’s provincial environment and natural resources officer and four other DENR employees for allegedly extorting P500,000 from a landowner in Malay.

    A case filed against the operators of Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center for allegedly building on a wetland was dismissed due to technical grounds, sparking outrage from residents and other businessmen.

    The Department of Tourism’s attached agency, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), is also being blamed for the delay in infrastructure projects intended to sustain the island’s environment.

    For instance, the drainage system that Tieza started in 2007 is still unfinished.

    Long overdue

    Swiss-German Ralph Gasser, who has been living on the island since 1983, said that while he welcomed efforts of the DENR and other government agencies to rehabilitate Boracay, he lamented that the problems had become serious because of years of government neglect.

    “This is overdue and should have happened a long time ago,” Gasser told the Inquirer. “Where has the DENR been for the past 25 years? Why didn’t they step in earlier?”

    Ming wonders whether the problems will really be solved.

    “Everybody is probably pointing fingers at the other person. But there has got to be a systematic way to preserve the island,” she said.

    “I am resigned to the fact that people want to be on a beautiful island, but people just need to take responsibility for cleaning it up,” she added.

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