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‘ISLAND PARADISE’ IN TROUBLE

2007 Boracay master plan raised urgency of solving environment woes

/ 07:06 AM February 15, 2018

ALGAL BLOOMS While residents say algal blooms naturally occur every summer in Boracay, researchers link their presence to human waste coming from nearby establishments. —JILSON SECKLER TIU

ILOILO CITY—The environmental problems plaguing the “island paradise” called Boracay did not come overnight.

The warnings have long been issued.

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There were at least three comprehensive development plans for the island and several multisectoral summits to deal with the problems.

In 2007, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) presented to stakeholders a draft 25-year environmental master plan for the 1,032-hectare island.

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The 130-page master plan covering 2008-2033 contained a comprehensive examination of the then environmental situation of the island. It also evaluated the impact of tourism-related activities and projects, and the effects of future development projects.

It aimed to preserve the environment and natural resources while ensuring the sustainable development of Boracay.

More than a decade ago, the plan already raised the urgency of the environmental situation brought by unregulated development and tourism boom.

“If the degradation of the total environment will be left unaddressed, the situation will only get worse unless action is taken promptly to reverse it.

“Denial, concealment or cosmetic dressing of the problems will only delay, or even worse, completely prevent action that could dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone on the island,” it said.

Causes of problems

The plan clearly identified the causes of the environmental problems: erection of resorts and tourism facilities along easement areas, hampering public access, destruction of the natural beauty of the coasts, indiscriminate development,  illegal reclamation of wetlands, and clearing of forested areas for building construction.

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It raised concern about the depletion of the island’s biodiversity and carrying capacity with the continued influx of tourists and migrants to the island.

The plan pushed for the shifting of major infrastructure support from the island to the mainland and regulating the daytime population by relocating the staff of commercial establishments to the mainland.

The DENR also implemented a moratorium on the processing and issuance of environmental compliance certificate (ECC) in 2008, which was officially lifted on July 15, 2014.

An ECC certifies that a project or activity will not pose environmental hazards or damage and that its proponents are capable of implementing measures to protect the environment.

The moratorium, however, did not stop construction activities because an ECC has not been made a requisite in applying for building permits.

Despite other efforts to solve the problems, including  putting up a sewerage system, enforcement of easement rules and clearing of the beach of illegal structures, many problems have remained.

Independent council

“It’s really about [greed]. There is uncontrolled construction, opening up of all kinds of businesses and influx not only of tourists but also of workers who eventually settle on the already crowded island,” said Jim Sampulna, DENR Western Visayas director.

There have been various proposals to put up a management council for Boracay, similar to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) instead of placing its management solely on the local government of Malay town in Aklan province.

Many residents and business operators agree that one of the key long-term solutions to the island’s problems is putting Boracay under an autonomous administrative body, which is not headed by elected officials.

“In the long run, Boracay needs an independent management council made up of tourism experts, businessmen and a minority of local officials. This council must be free of politics and political influence,” an expatriate on the island said.

Cimatu’s turnaround

“Boracay can always be rehabilitated with a strong independent authority like the (SBMA),” a former tourism official said.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu himself made a similar proposal during his confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments.

But he made a turnaround during his visit to the island in January this year, saying he now favors an “expanded” task force composed of various agencies and local officials.

The resistance from local officials is understandable. While Boracay has only three of the 17 barangays of Malay (population: 53,000 as of 2015), it accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the municipality’s income.

The municipality earns from licenses, permits and fees mostly in Boracay and from the collection of the P75 environmental fee per tourist.

The Aklan provincial government also earns P100 in terminal fee per visitor at the Caticlan jetty port and passenger terminal.

But Boracay residents are hoping that all is not lost because even if the island is closed down, this will still be their home.

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TAGS: Boracy, DENR, environemntal problems, Roy Cimatu
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