By Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The main problem in Boracay Island is the weak enforcement and the non-compliance of environment laws.
Sen. Loren Legarda made this assessment during the Senate hearing held in the popular tropical island resort Friday to look into the environmental issues that hound the world-famous tourist destination in Central Visayas.
Alarmed at what Boracay had become in years, President Duterte called the island “a cesspool” and tasked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “to clean” Boracay in six months and vowed to close the island if the mission is not accomplished.
“If we simply comply with environmental laws, especially the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Law, we would not have to be here,’’ Legarda said on the woes Boracay island finds itself in.
After making an ocular inspection of some areas in the island prior to the Senate hearing, Senator Cynthia Villar is convinced that the national government should step in and manage tourism operations in Boracay Island to avoid further degradation.
Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said she would recommend a “joint management” of Boracay by the national government and the local government to make sure that laws are properly implemented and officials are complying with their mandates.
Villar said she is eyeing a measure that would enforce the proposal, not only in Boracay, but in other tourist destinations in the country.
“I think that there should be a joint management between national and local government in Boracay. The local (government unit) cannot do it alone. There must be check and balance. Boracay is a pride of the Philippines, we cannot allow it to be destroyed because this will also destroy our image,” she noted.
In the hearing Friday, Malay Mayor Ceciron Cawaling admitted issuing local permits to 173 hotels and businesses in Boracay Island despite the absence of the required environmental compliant certificates (ECCs) from the DENR.
Under the law, businesses, especially in protected ecotourism areas, should secure both local permits and the ECC to be able to operate.
Hundreds of resorts in the island were also ordered demolished for violating the 30-meter shoreline easement for Boracay.
Senators also were told that structures and informal settlers have taken over wetlands in the island.
The DENR said five of the nine Boracay wetlands have been occupied by structures, most of them by business establishments that were given permits.
Existing laws provide that structures should not be built over wetlands to allow treated drainage water to flow into the sea.
12-man DILG team
Meanwhile, the DILG is eyeing the creation of a Boracay Island Development Authority which will manage Boracay properly not the LGUs.
Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said, “not all local government officals elected have the competency to manage a world class tourist destination. Basurang basura ang pagpapatakbo sa Boracay Island eh (Boracay is run like garbage).”
Densing heads the 12-man Boracay Investigating Team (BIT) created by the DILG to look into the culpability of government officials and employees especially those involved in giving permits to establishments.
The BIT will also inquire where the estimated P1.5B collected from tourists in past 10 years went. Each tourist is charged P75 environmental fee by the municipality of Malay.
Densing said the money can be used to save Boracay from the embarrassment it is facing now.
DILG Officer-in-Charge Eduardo M. Año said he expects the BIT to submit a comprehensive report on the result of their probe as soon as possible.
Año likewise assured that those responsible would be held liable, including those conniving with officials.
The DILG also proposed a 60-day “tourist holiday” as soon as possible to start the rehabilitation of the island. Should this be approved, the island resort will be closed and local or foreign tourists will be prohibited to visit the island for two months.
But Densing said they propose to close establishments that do not have environmental compliance certificate, Mayor’s permit, fire safety insurance, among others. Currently, at least 197 establishments in the island do not have an environmental compliance certificates, while 800 establishments have no permits.
The proposal to close only business establishments violating environmental laws has found support among Senators Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Villar, and business groups.
In a separate statement, Sen. Sonny Angara called on the government to ensure employment assistance to affected workers should the closure be approved.
Gov. Florencio Mirafloresof Aklan appealed against the total shut down of business operations in the island resort.
“We say closing is not the solution to the problem,” said Elena Brugger of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce-Boracay, as she instead urged the implementation of a “long-term” solution to the island’s environmental woes.
Jose Clemente III of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines also warned that a total closure may lead to a “myriad” of problems not only in Boracay, but also the country’s tourism industry.
15 days to self-demolish
Nenette Graf of the Boracay Foundation, Inc., meanwhile, asked government officials to be transparent and include also the residents in rehabilitation of Boracay.
The DENR said it would be “flexible” with the closure proposals to help Boracay heal.
“We are considering their suggestions but it will be President Duterte who has the final decision,” DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said.
During an aerial inspection using drone, Leones said DENR has discovered 33 makeshift stalls on the pristine Puka Beach or Yapak Beach, which is popularly known for its Puka shells.
“We have put billboards on these stalls saying that they have no permit to operate or they are illegally occupying a public land. These are all subject for demolition. We have given them 15 days to demolish voluntarily, if not we will be forced to dismantle the stalls,” he said.
Leones said DENR is also working with the local government of Malay to properly address the garbage problem in the island.
“There is an existing materials recovery facility (MRF) but has turned into an open dumpsite. The trash in the MRF should be transferred to the main land of Aklan in less than 24 hours,” he added.
He noted that the management of garbage in Boracay should be immediately addressed in preparation for the influx of the tourists during the summer season.
“We have to come up with a permanent solution to address the garbage problem,” he also said.
Boracay must have sewerage and septage systems, Legarda stressed because around 17.5 million liters of wastewater is generated in the island every day and only about half of this is treated properly. The other half, she said is discharged untreated.
About 30 to 40 percent of the untreated wastewater comes from private homes. The rest from business establishments, she revealed.
Legarda said that the implementation of the ESWM law would address solid waste disposal issues in the island, citing successful practices of communities who comply with the law.
In San Fernando City, Pampanga waste diversion rate is at 55 percent, which means that instead of being brought to landfills, the waste is either recycled or composted. Barangay Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, Legarda said diverts 80% of its waste simply by building a materials recovery facility (MRF) and hiring waste collectors to visit every household, check their garbage, separate organic waste and bring it to the facility. (With reports from Alexandria San Juan and Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz)