WANTED: MAYOR who can help save Boracay Island.
Residents of Boracay, the country?s top tourist island destination, are hoping that the May 10 elections will bring officials who can help preserve the already fragile island while continuously developing its P13-billion tourism industry.
After occupying his office for a maximum limit of nine years, Mayor Ciceron Cawaling of Malay town in Aklan, which governs Boracay, is running this time for vice mayor under the Nacionalista Party (NP).
But can any of the three mayoral candidates?a former vice mayor, the incumbent vice mayor and a veteran barangay captain?seeking to replace Cawaling, bring changes that the island needs?
The candidates are old faces and names in local politics.
Frolibar Bautista (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino) served two terms as vice mayor from 2001 to 2007 after serving three terms as councilor from 1992 to 2001. He ran against Cawaling in the 2007 mayoral race but lost.
Joel Gelito, an independent, served for 17 years as village chief of Manoc-Manoc, one of the three Boracay barangays. Manoc-Manoc has the biggest population among Malay?s 17 barangays with 8,426, including some 6,000 voters.
The third mayoral aspirant, first-term Vice Mayor John Yap (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), was a councilor for two terms from 2001 to 2007. He is the son of former Malay mayor and outgoing provincial board member Jose Yap.
Yap and Cawaling are running under different parties but they have struck an alliance that, in effect, makes them running mates. So far, there has been no conflict in their campaign sorties since NP presidential candidate Manuel Villar and Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro have yet to woo voters in Malay or Boracay.
Boracay is inevitably the main concern of any mayor of Malay. It accounts for 80-90 percent of the municipality?s income.
In 2007, Malay earned P60 million from licenses, permits and fees alone, mostly in Boracay. It also raised P22 million from the collection of the P50 environmental fee charged to tourists visiting the island.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue collected P469 million in taxes in Aklan in 2008 with two Boracay resort owners as the top individual taxpayers.
Last year, the island registered an all-time high of 649,559 tourist arrivals, with nearly a third comprising foreign tourists.
Stakeholders say the main concerns of the next mayor are still those that have pushed Boracay to the brink of collapse. These include preserving the environment, enforcement of ordinances and laws, settling land ownership disputes, and implementing and synchronizing programs and plans of national agencies, line departments and the local government.
Top priority: Environment
Loubelle Cann, president of the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI), says the environmental situation and its preservation should be the priority of the next mayor. The BFI is composed of business owners and operators.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has identified 14 environmental issues that must be addressed through immediate and long-term measures. Among them are flooding, water and air pollution, and congestion.
The DENR has blamed the worsening environmental threats to development projects that have violated laws, policies and ordinances. It cited the building of resorts and tourism facilities along easement areas, hampering of public access, destruction of the natural beauty of the coasts, indiscriminate development of areas, illegal reclamation of wetlands and clearing of forested areas for building construction.
Together with the Department of Tourism, the DENR completed an environmental master plan and a comprehensive land-use plan as part of measures to put order in Boracay and to preserve its fragile ecological situation.
Cann says the problems have lingered because of the lack of enforcement of laws and ordinances.
Peace and order measures must also be enhanced due to the swelling population, she says.
Malay?s next chief executive should help tighten coordination of government programs and policies and ensure the close cooperation between the government and the private sector.
?We need a mayor who understands the importance of environment and population control; who is serious in solving problems and implementing rules and regulations,? says Swiss David Goldberg, chapter vice president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Goldberg, who has been residing on the island since 1990, says the next mayor has to also ensure that existing businesses with permits and licenses are protected and that there is a level economic playing field.
Boracay should also be maintained as a family-oriented destination, says Fr. Magloire Placer of the Holy Rosary Parish on the island.
Placer says the next mayor must oppose and discourage ?unwholesome activities,? such as prostitution and gambling, especially amid continued proposals to put up a casino there.
?We don?t need a casino to promote the island. Boracay has survived and boomed for decades without gambling,? Placer says.
He also calls on the next mayor to ensure that Boracay will have its own modern hospital to cater to more than 18,000 residents, and local and foreign tourists.
?We are a first-class tourist destination, but we have one of the worst hospitals, which is why emergency cases have to be brought to Kalibo (the capital town) or Manila,? Placer says.
He agrees that the biggest challenge for the mayor is the implementation of ordinances and laws.
?We have enough good ordinances and laws but we lack implementation. Just look at the mushrooming of structures due to the lack of regulation,? he says.