“The government must conduct a thorough assessment of the Boracay Island and identify appropriate mitigating measures to address the degrading state of the island.”
By TYRA AQUINO
MANILA — Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) Research and Advocacy Coordinator Lia Alonzo questioned the government’s lack of comprehensive rehabilitation plan amid the six-month closure of Boracay Island.
The island’s closure began on April 26. It is expected to be reopened to tourists on October 26. But early on during its so-called rehabilitation, much seem to be happening countering the announced intent of rehabilitation, according to various groups that launched a fact-finding mission in the island shortly before it was closed and 40 days after it was closed.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Tourism, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government recommended the rehabilitation of the island after President Rodrigo Duterte criticized it, calling it a ”cesspool” because of water and land pollution.
But shortly after the island was closed to tourists, reports say the casino giant Galaxy Entertainment and Resorts World Corp. is set to build a $500-million resort on a 23-hectare property in Boracay.
“They said the casino of Galaxy and Resorts World Entertainment will not push through but when the actual proponents were asked, Galaxy said it will still push through,” said Alonzo during the forum organized by CEC entitled, Whitewashing the white sands: A forum on the Boracay rehabilitation activities on June 17 at Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, UP-Diliman.
Last February, DoubleDragon Properties Corporation announced that they plan to construct the country’s largest hotel, by room count, in Boracay. The hotel will have 1,001 rooms.
So what’s happening is something like this, as Alonzo noted: “They’re driving away the small businesses, removing employees and informal workers from their jobs, but they’re introducing huge infrastructure and corporations.”
A report by I am Boracay Coalition, Friends of Boracay, Bayan Muna Partylist, CEC-Philippines, BAYAN-Panay revealed that 36,000 workers have been displaced despite the pronouncement that there will be “no mass lay-offs.” The closure has also harmed the livelihood of 46,829 residents.
They said it’s like martial law there, troops have been deployed. Posted all over the island, from entrypoint to main roads to shorelines and other areas are 630 policemen including elite units and anti-riot teams, said Alonzo. Add to these the 72 policemen already in the island.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the government needs a budget of P1.36 billion to rehabilitate Boracay.
Members of fisherfolks Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakay ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) have much to say about what’s happening in the famous resort island. Nanay Nieves of Pamalakaya clarified that the fisherfolks are not against rehabilitating Boracay. But she said they should be consulted as stakeholders in the island.
She urged for accountability from private resort owners, and the local and national government, for the rampant environmental violations in Boracay. “The government should not punish all the people in the island for the sins of the few.”
During the first few weeks of the closure, Duterte said he would implement land reform in Boracay and prioritize the locals. At the same time, he also said, a small portion of the island would be for commercial use.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) followed that up with a plan that at least 868 hectares of the island’s 1,032-hectare area would be covered by a three-phase agrarian reform project. The plan is based on a 2008 Supreme Court ruling stating that all land in Boracay is state-owned, except for about 300-hectare titled property.
While the announcement sounded good, it is marred by contradictions. According to University of the Philippines Diliman Geology professor Kristian Saguin, “awarding (land) titles to individuals and not to groups has its complications. This is different from the context of an ancestral domain, where the land is owned by a group. It’s seen in the kind of agricultural practice by the Ati which is communal.”
Saguin pointed out that declaring a planned implementation of land reform in Boracay, with its underlying notion that it will be given to the people, is a populist move. But, is this a move towards delivering social justice or is this just a series of rhetoric covering up something behind it?”
Recently, Duterte said he wanted to distribute land to Boracay natives so they could sell it to big businesses.
This “counters the point of agrarian reform,” Saguin said.
If the land will be declared alienable and disposable, it will pave the way for the entry of the big foreign firms, such as Chinese casino operators. AGHAM Secretary General Feny Cosico warned that this threatens not only the livelihood of the locals but also public safety. “Environmental risks such as erosion will intensify.”
The DAR has also reportedly planned for Boracay to be a coconut producer under land reform. Coconut is among the leading agricultural exports products of the country, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
But rather than tell them what to do, Saguin said, “The people should be allowed to decide on their own what they want to do with their land.”
AGHAM Secretary General Feny Cosico emphasized that the Boracay rehabilitation plan must be made public. “All stakeholders – the local workers, resort owners, fisherfolks as well as scientists – should be consulted.”
“The government must conduct a thorough assessment of the Boracay Island and identify appropriate mitigating measures to address the degrading state of the island,” Cosico said. She added that the local communities should participate in the planning and implementation of the rehabilitation activities as they are the stewards of the natural resources of Boracay. “They should play a key role in defining the needs of the Boracay Island in bringing back its ecological integrity.”