BORACAY is only a symptom of a larger problem. The country is blessed with so much natural beauty, but we Filipinos are not taking care of them. Many, as we do, consider Boracay as the crown jewel of those natural endowments. Whether one agrees with President Rodrigo Duterte’s assessment that the island has become a cesspool, few would dispute that Boracay has serious issues that threaten its long-term viability as a tourist destination.
We support the decision to temporarily close Boracay, despite the hefty costs – as much as P20 billion in opportunity losses and some 35,000 workers affected. One hotelier told The Manila Times that Boracay accounts for about a third of the some 6 million tourist arrivals in the country, and they, too, might not rebook their trips to the Philippines. On the bright side, some suggested that the closure of Boracay could be an opportunity for the many other tourist destinations in the Philippines to be discovered. But we doubt that.
Few have mentioned, for instance, that this incident might be an opportunity to promote Palawan instead, particularly Coron. It is spectacular – but hard to get to, not to mention expensive. Flights to Busuanga often get cancelled, because the small airport cannot handle larger planes. If we are to capitalize on Boracay’s closure, the government should move faster with the development of various tourism infrastructure all over the country.
Another alternative to Boracay that we’ve heard is Calaguas in Camarines Norte. The local government there courted Holy Week vacationers to visit their Boracay-like island. But the crossing from the mainland can be perilous. Only recently, some 200 tourists were stranded on the island because of strong winds. That would be less of a problem if the vessels used in the crossing were bigger than the outriggers that typically ferry visitors.
The government should look beyond Boracay. Yes, there are many, equally beautiful places in the country to visit. But many of them suffer the same problems.
Closer to the capital
As it is, many would-be alternative tourist spots have already become cesspools. Earlier this week, columnist Rigoberto Tiglao wrote that the President should apply his political will to clean up the Pasig River. We agree, but let’s not stop there.
Look at major bodies of water at both ends of the Pasig River. There is Manila Bay, where swimming has again been prohibited this hot season because the contaminated water poses serious health risks. Billions of pesos are lost today because Manila Bay cannot be enjoyed by locals and foreign tourists alike.
At the other end of the Pasig River, there is Laguna de Bay, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. The lake can offer a vital source of drinking water as aquifers in the capital region are rapidly being depleted and contaminated by seawater. But the lake also faces serious problems. Tourism, not to mention ship navigation, in the lake is limited because of the fish pens. Laguna de Bay is an important source of freshwater fish for Metro Manila and the provinces around the lake. But we have to measure the opportunity costs. Also, the Duterte government should do more to address water pollution there. Reports have it that some 60 percent of the 8.4 million residents around the lake and its tributaries dump their waste there.
Like Boracay, the situation requires resolve rather than palliative measures. What good are clean- ups if we do not first shut off the sources of pollution? Granted, how does the government “close” Pasig River, Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay?
For starters, the authorities should relocate the illegal settlers along the river that are the source of effluents, as well as dismantle the illegal fish pens. Slash their number. Second, the government should compel the water utility firms to build waste-management systems like they were meant to in their concession agreements. And for the areas not covered by those utility firms, the government should bear the cost of building those facilities.
These ideas are not new. Solutions have been talked about for years. The question is, will we do something about it now?