A lawmaker on Friday underscored the need for government to establish a roadmap to ensure the sustainability of the country’s popular tourist destinations.
Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento made the proposal in House Resolution 1087 to determine necessary actions of government to prevent the deterioration of local tourist spots, most notably the world-famous Boracay in Aklan province.
Sarmiento”s resolution was tackled by the Houae committee on tourism, chaired by Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez.
“The ocular inspection in Boracay during the House “Western-Eastern Nautical Highway Expedition” last March 2017 prompted me to file this resolution. What I witnessed there made me deeply concerned that the issues besetting the popular island destination will be replicated in other areas if we do not take decisive action,” Sarmiento said in his speech at a congressional deliberation of his measure.
“But this hearing is not only about Boracay. The situation there can be a universal example of how the tourism industry could be detrimental to the environment if there is no roadmap ensuring sustainability,” he added.
The hearing conducted last Wednesday was attended by Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Wanda Teo and Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu.
In her remarks, Teo raised before the attending congressmen the issue on sewage treatment–or lack thereof–from the numerous commercial establishments in Boracay. According to her, around 100 commercial establishments in Boracay engage in improper waste management, thus contaminating the once-pristine beaches there.
Cimatu, for his part, revealed disturbing details of the land management problem in Boracay.
“About 400 hectares in Boracay are forest lands. However, about 600 buildings are there in the forest land and they are occupied by 3,000 to 4,000 illegal settlers. These illegal settlers are competing with the tourism as far as services are concerned. Meaning, the disposal of garbage, water management, everything,” Cimatu said.
“I am just wondering how come this 3,000 to 4,000 settlers were allowed to construct buildings? You are only allowed to build when you have permit from local government,” he said.
The pouring of waste into the sea and overcrowding of establishments in Boracay were in fact just two of the six concerning issues enumerated by the DOT in its audio-visual presentation during the hearing.
The others are solid waste management disposal, drainage problems that lead to flooding, presence of resorts built over natural bodies or water, and traffic caused by overcrowding.
Teo also aggressively pushed for the creation of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force in order to address both the island’s longtime and emerging problems. The Task Force may be formed via executive order (EO) from President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The executive order to be approved by President Duterte into law….would convene the DENR as chair; DOT as co-chair; TIEZA, DILG, DSWD, DPWH, DA, PNP, LGUs of Boracay, one representative from Boracay Chamber of commerce, one representative from Boracay Foundation, [and] Municipality of Palay in the Province of Aklan [as members of] the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force,” she said.
For his part, Pocholo Paragas, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) chief operating officer, agreed with Sarmiento in that a roadmap or master plan is needed to save Boracay and other tourist sites from similar problems.
“What we are planning to do now, P1 billion to P1.4 billion will be allocated…to fix the drainage program [Boracay]. Initially there was a seven-year plan to build it in phases, but based on what’s happening right now…Because the other island areas which are already deemed developed…are starting to be overdeveloped without a correct master plan, it will have the same problem,” Paragas said.
“Clearly the DOT cannot do it alone. Tourism is a shared responsibility between the government and tourism stakeholders,” Teo told the House panel.