Better to bite the bullet on Boracay now than later


    It is just as well that Boracay is going to be closed off for two to three months. It is probably best that this temporary closure takes place during this summer, when the resorts expect to be literally flooded with tourists and visitors. Delay could mean more disaster.

    If the decision is postponed out of concern or regret over the revenues and income from the summer tourist season that will be foregone, precious opportunity to correct the dismal situation will be lost. And the rehabilitation plan and timetable will have to be changed.

    President Duterte is indubitably right to declare a state of calamity in the area. The situation is that bad. Without a sense of emergency and the requisite engineering knowhow and resources, any rehabilitation effort will fail.

    Especially futile are half measures designed to produce cosmetic change.

    Boracay is a life lesson on the unpredictability and precariousness of travel and tourism economics.

    Boracay teaches the many things that can happen when you leave a major tourism treasure site to the management and administration mainly to local government.

    Overdevelopment and the proliferation of business enterprises can mushroom overnight and become impossible to manage.

    Above all, Boracay shows what happens when environmental issues are subordinated to commercial concerns. Every participant in the Boracay miracle was focused on counting his take from the bonanza. Even the government started focusing on just counting tourists and revenues. Brutally forgotten was the role of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which should have been involved in the large-scale project from the beginning, and should have remained engaged there up to this day.

    As things developed in Boracay, what were relatively small problems at the beginning mutated to become large ones, and after the passage of a decade, they collectively became a monstrous nightmare.

    Tourism and public works on this scale need the national government, and several government agencies working together.

    The local government and local communities, at best, should be cooperative actors in the development and administration of the resort.

    If DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones was correct that the closure would only last for 60 to 90 days, that would be most welcome. But realistically, most people in the know believe the rehabilitation process will take longer.

    In a similar forced shutdown of a major tourist resort for environmental reasons, Phuket in Thailand had to be shut down for one year, in order to allow nature to recover from environmental damage.

    DENR is right to take lessons from Phuket, because it is now on its way to recovery.

    At this point, DENR is still in the stage of investigating and finding out the core problems of Boracay and mapping the entire architecture of this disaster.

    A key problem is waste management. The DENR says if the resorts cannot connect their sewer lines to the island’s main sewer grid, they will have to come up with their own wastewater facilities.

    DENR says businesses and establishments are not allowed in the 400 hectares of wetlands on the island, but they have reclaimed it throughout the years, causing flooding in Boracay.

    Each establishment will now be required to show proof that they have permission to operate on the island. If they cannot prove themselves, they will be forced to demolish their establishments. Under the Clean Water Act, establishments can be penalized from P10,000 to P200,000 per day.

    The totality of the rehabilitation process implies that Boracay needs re-engineering or probably something more drastic.

    Boracay is a God-given wonder to the nation that has brought fabulous returns to the local government and local communities, business investors and the government.

    It has generated investments in the billions and visitors in the millions. This is because it has been a gift that has kept on giving.

    Now, Boracay faces a reckoning. It surely must be saved and revived, whatever the cost.


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