We bumped into a tourism industry leader over the weekend at the Power Plant in Rockwell. He invited me for coffee, and thereafter poured out his well-considered views regarding Boracay and other tourism woes.
He could not understand why tourism officials have only one mantra in the raging Boracay environmental degradation issue, and that is to “close” Boracay for anywhere between two and six months. He even quoted a DoT undersecretary as saying that what the President wants is a shutdown of the entire island, while rehabilitation, particularly of its wastewater disposal facilities, or lack of it, is being addressed.
Two weeks ago, senators led by Nancy Binay, the chair of the tourism committee and Cynthia Villar, chair of the environment committee, among others, did an ocular of the beleaguered island and conducted a public hearing where both government agency top honchos and stakeholders of the island were heard.
Thereafter, Villar stated that what government, through the DILG, DENR and DoT should do is close down all establishments which have violated building and environment laws, but not shut down the entire island. A shutdown would punish both the violators and those which have connected to the island’s main sewer lines and have not encroached upon the shoreline’s no-build zone.
But government agencies keep invoking the name of the President in saying “No, Boracay has to be shut down while rehabilitation is ongoing.”
Clearly, this is a misinterpretation of what the President wants done.
Senator Cynthia is right. Rehabilitation and enforcing the law does not require a total shutdown of Boracay. Not only is such sweeping action unjust and unfair to those who have been following the laws; it is also downright unthinkable.
Even President Duterte will agree. He just wants to protect and conserve the island. And wants the laws strictly enforced.
A logical mind would first ask: What are the violations? Most obviously, the discharge of effluents directly through storm-drain pipes instead of the government-installed and privately managed (by an Ayala subsidiary at that) wastewater treatment facility is the biggest violation.
What is the solution to that violation? Compel ALL erring establishments to connect to the wastewater treatment facility. Why the DENR regional officials and the local government units gave EECs and occupancy permits without ascertaining connection to the TIEZA-owned and Ayala-operated facility is clearly an act of malfeasance and misfeasance. Throw the book against these officials as well as compel the private resort and restaurant owners to immediately connect.
That does not require a shutdown of the entire island, does it? A shutdown would mean economic dislocation, never mind of the resort owners, but of their thousands of employees who will suddenly go hungry, along with their families.
Second violation: Many commercial establishments have encroached upon the long white beach, where easement requires a no-build zone of 30 meters from the shoreline, measured at high tide.
Solution: Bulldoze everything that violates the easement rules. No exceptions, whether big or small establishment. That again does not require a total shutdown, does it?
Third violation is the building of establishments on the wetlands in the middle of the island which serve as catch-basin for rainwater.
Again the solution is to demolish these properties. And that does not require a total shutdown of Bora, does it?
Another problem is the narrow road from north to south of the island. Not only has the local government allowed establishments to encroach upon what ought to be right of way for everybody, but some supposed “private” landowners would not yield to government’s eminent domain.
As if they have title to their land, when in truth, only members of the Tirol family of which the acting SC chief, the erudite Antonio Carpio is one, possess land titles to their herencias. The rest only have tax declarations, which government, in the exercise of its right of eminent domain can always reclaim. The others are in declared forest lands, and DENR regional officials have a lot of explaining to do on how said lands have become commercial.
Finally, there is a lack of storm drainage systems in parts of the island, such that when heavy rains fell last December, the island was flooded in knee-deep waters.
Then let government construct these soonest. Again, does the laying of drainage pipes require total closure? Obviously not.
Let DENR, DILG, DoT and DPWH officials come up with a plan and timetable to immediately implement the solutions to the problems here enumerated, as well as whatever else they have realized too late, and only because President Duterte raised hell.
DILG and DENR must by now have a list of the erring establishments, so they can do their job of closure and demolition. DPWH can widen the single road in the island, pronto. And TIEZA, the infrastructure arm of DoT, should immediately construct the storm drain systems which I understand they have already bid out.
Meanwhile too, DILG and DENR along with TIEZA should immediately compel connectivity to the wastewater and sewerage facility installed therein for the last decade and more.
If needed, appropriate charges should be leveled against government officials, both national and local, who did not, willfully or not, discharge their duties under our laws.
Prospectively, both the executive and legislative branches must enact legislation that would remove our natural treasures, especially environmentally fragile islands, from the pure administrative control of local government units. Use the Subic and Clark templates for the sustainable development and administration of Boracay and other similarly-situated places, devolved from the stupidity, neglect, corruption, or all of the above, of LGUs.
Would all these require a total shutdown?
Most certainly not.