MY wife and I haven’t slept for two weeks, a Kalibo-based businessman told me. The couple owns a small hotel in Boracay. Their other businesses can absorb less than a third of the Boracay staff. They have worked hard for years to make their businesses successful. Now they don’t know what to do.
“The six-month closure came suddenly and whimsically, without rigorous thinking,” the owner of Friday’s Boracay Beach Resort with 80 employees said in a statement (Business World, April 11). These employees earn from P15,000 to P20,000 a month. Only a few of them can be accommodated by the company’s resort in Puerto Galera. Big and small, Boracay’s hotels and resorts are reeling under the impending closure.
Another sector expected to take a hit is the handicraft sector in mainland Aklan. This sector uses native materials such as piña, abaca and nito. The Department of Trade and Industry has been working with the handicraft makers for decades, helping them improve designs and quality to meet the taste and preferences of the tourists.
Van operators catering to tourists who come via Kalibo will not be able to meet their loan payment obligations, one banker in Kalibo told me. Without the daily trips to and from Caticlan, they will have no income. Some restaurants at Kalibo airport are also expected to close as there won’t be any diners. Kalibo Airport has international flights to and from Singapore, Korea, China and Russia. Without Boracay, no foreign tourists, no flights.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has assured the public that the government has more than enough calamity funds to help affected workers cope with the unexpected but temporary loss of jobs and income. P2 billion has been set aside to cushion the impact to be felt by the estimated 36,000 workers in Boracay. But what about affected workers in mainland Aklan and Panay?
The Philippines, incidentally, has 4.4 million households on conditional cash transfer with another 5.6 million households receiving cash assistance to help them cope with the impact of the TRAIN law. That’s 10 million households already receiving cash assistance from the government, out of a total of 22 million Filipino households.
Businessmen such as resort owners will not receive any assistance. Rather, this sector has been portrayed as greedy profit-seekers who have destroyed the environment of Boracay and violated a long list of laws. We not only condemn them without hearing their side, we judge their alleged violations as if they were heinous crimes that deserve this swift and harsh retribution.
Then there are the families who had lived in Boracay for decades and whose lands were classified forestland in 2006 “without due process,” according to Lara Salaver (Facebook, April 5). They have now been served notices to vacate their homes. “Where is the government that should protect them?” Lara asks. Another Facebook user told me that the local government of Malay and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources after the issuance of Proclamation 1064 in 2016 failed to assist these families either gain formal rights to the land that they occupied, or transfer if the land had been classified as off limits for settlement.
It isn’t even clear what will happen in the future. The DoT wants the tourists back before the lapse of the six months so that this year’s target for foreign arrivals in the Philippines can be met. On the other hand, the department is also eyeing a cap on visitors in Boracay. Without the closure, Boracay was likely to have seen about 2.4 million visitors.
The DENR is finalizing an order declaring 751 hectares of Boracay’s forest and coastal lands as critical habitat zone (Philippine Star, April 12). This includes lands that were classified as agricultural by Proclamation 1064. Consultations with stakeholders will come only after the issuance of the order. President Rodrigo Duterte for his part has declared Boracay a land reform area though there is no actual agricultural activity on the island. In short, the future is shrouded in uncertainty.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1978 declared Boracay and numerous other islands, coves and beach areas as tourism zones and marine reserves. They were placed under the administration and control of the Philippine Tourism Authority (now Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Economic Zone Authority). Proclamation 1801 stressed that these islands needed “the concentrated efforts of both the government and private sectors in the development of their tourism potential.” In the 40 years since then, Boracay has not failed to deliver on its tourism potential. Yes, the protection of the environment has been wanting, and laws have been broken. Boracay is, after all, an island in the Philippines where the situation is far from perfect, where poverty, armed conflict and other socio-economic ills persist. We need the loss of revenue and jobs like a hole in the head.