The brouhaha over Boracay has shaken many people in the tourism industry and beyond, what with Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu cracking down on resorts and businesses on the island paradise that have been violating environmental and zoning rules.
The latest news was when Cimatu discovered soil being dumped in ecologically important wetlands by a large resort under construction.
Initially, locals and observers didn’t think the pronouncements would come to much. That is, until things started to happen, questions started getting asked—and all roads led to the negligence, incompetence, and haphazard implementation of regulations by local government.
Tourists and other outsiders can say what they want, but locals and residents who truly care about Boracay apparently support this crackdown, as one entrepreneur put it: “I would rather let the sh-t hit the fan. I believe it will be good for the island in the long term to get all this flak now. The sewage problem is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The island reached its tipping point long ago, the entrepreneur said.
“We, the stakeholders and local community, continued to struggle with two things day in and day out:
1) Protecting the island’s reputation and our own vested interests; 2) Fighting to protect the environment and calling the attention of the local government to do its job on so many other issues, repeatedly, for the longest time, from mayor to mayor.”
The entrepreneur and various friends reveal a sad picture of a once idyllic paradise where development reached a frenzy, and remained unregulated—why, we can only speculate (but it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out there is money and corruption involved). The problems:
1) The island has exceeded its carrying capacity—“It’s quantity over quality,” they say, “mostly Chinese tour groups from chartered flights. There is no ‘cap.’ Because of this, the island has no time to recover.” There used to be a low season during the habagat, June to Oct. 31. But today, the flow is constant; roads, hotels and the once expansive white beach are packed 365 days a year. Cruise ships loaded with as many as 2,000 passengers dock at inadequate ports, posing risks ranging from oil spills to waste generation, without leaving significant benefits for the island itself. The entrepreneur heard that 48 cruise ships are expected to arrive this year.
“They need to stop and give the island a chance to rest!”
2) There’s over-construction. Properties build too close to shore and to the roads. There are ordinances, but no enforcement.
3) There’s an environmental fee, but people are asking, where does it really go? Where is the transparency of the local government unit? Locals claim the bulk goes to Malay, not Boracay, which should be its own municipality by now.
4) Other signs of mismanagement: frequent brownouts; traffic and all kinds of vehicles plying roads originally meant only for tricycles, as well as smoke-belching old motor bikes allowed to stay on the road; no trash bins; just one hospital and mainly clinics, none of which are equipped to handle major emergencies or traumas; and informal settlers who often commit the petty crimes.
“So, finally, heads will roll and all the baho is coming out,” the entrepreneur says. “Sure, we will bear the brunt and have much to lose should the island be closed, but I’m confident that it will all get sorted out, better late than never! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sadly, the island has become a city.”