LETTERS FROM DAVAO
By: Jun Ledesma
Columnist, Philippines News Agency
WHEN Pres. Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay for a general clean up I am certain he is not only referring to the beach water which he accurately described as a veritable “cesspool” but also cleansing the government functionaries to include the local government units which allowed the country’s top tourist attraction and the world’s best to be a virtual sewerage and coliform catchment.
There are oppositions from various quarters claiming the government will lose billions of pesos in tourism receipts but it will not be long for now, given the unmitigated commercialism and government corruption that stinks more than the cesspool, Boracay will be avoided like plague by tourists and the loss will be beyond anyone’s imagination.
After all is said and done, so far I can only surmise that the degradation of the environment and Boracay as a prime resort could only be traced to the inutility of the provincial and local government which are supposed to enforce ordinances and environmental laws. The closure and rehabilitation order by President Duterte himself opened a can of worms revealing a magnitude of corruption that led to this radical solution of closing the island resort to restore it back to its primal and pristine natural beauty. I would defer a bit from the President’s idea of declaring the island agricultural for I think mother nature intended that thousand-hectare plus islet as tourist paradise.
Let me start by asking where the Environmental Fee of P75/tourist go? Tourism data for 2017 showed that more than 2-million domestic and foreign tourists visited the island. For that year alone only P150-million were accounted and that P91-million are still to accounted for. Where did the passengers’ boat fee of P200 for each passenger that enters and leave the islet. Both the provincial government of Aklan and the town of Malay share the collection. Malay by the way is composed of 17 barangays and three of these are in Boracay. Billions of pesos had been collected for decades but the island can only pass as a cesspool instead of an impeccable island paradise. What happened?
There are a number of Aklanons who are now residing in Davao City but have properties in Boracay. They are old-timers of Boracay and a number of their relatives are still living in the island. They said that while they expected the island to become a prime tourist destination they were aghast with the unimpeded commercialism that marred the island.
When I posted some comments on Facebook about Boracay last week I received a deluge of information that have common revelations of graft and corruption that they said are so decadent they attribute the environmental degradation to the LGUs. They said Ted Failon’s coverage at ABS-CBN was good but it only touched the tip of the iceberg. One month since the closure order, only that imposing hotel called the West Cove was demolished. Ironically, the order of DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu was only to close as a rock formation which was levelled to give way to a view deck was to be restored. I have gone to Boracay myself a couple of times and I always thought that that imposing white resort hotel surrounded by trees and rock formations was owned by Pambansang Kamao Manny Pacquiao. I gathered later that it was not. The boatmen, however, would always take guests to that site and say it’s Pacquiao’s. I had insisted to be brought to that site as it is used extensively in tourism brochures and Philippine Airlines magazine. Until recently West Cove also appeared in country’s tourism materials during the APEC forum.
But what is this I heard? Is it true that West Cove is actually or somehow more compliant compared to others? An unimpeachable source told me that the true owner, a certain Cris Aquino, obtained in 2009 a 25-year Forest Land Agreement for tourism purposes from then DENR Sec. Lito Atienza for which he pays P100,000 per year to the government. For one reason or another, his permit was cancelled by the local government on allegations that his FLAG lease was cancelled. Aquino contested that claiming that he was not informed of any environmental issues from the DENR. His resort hotel was demolished anyway without any court order and that it was looted. About 85 hotel employees lost their jobs.
If the incumbent Mayor of Malay has his faults, the government probe on the rape of Boracay should include the past administration. Many of those who had a hand in the anomalies which is not the focus of investigation were carried over from the past administration. Indeed, a month had elapsed and we still have to hear from the probe who was responsible for covering the natural wetlands in Boracay and sold this to the public.
The LGU failed to implement the law that mandates that no building construction should be allowed on easement measured by 25 meters plus five meters during high tide from the beach to inland. Beachfront establishments have yet to be domolished. Which begs of another question. Who heads the demolition team? Maybe Secretary Cimatu should also check why forest lands are sold and given permits by the town authorities. Maybe the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the National Bureau of Investigation should also check why when you go snorkeling you pay P40 per dive and no receipts are issued.
Maybe the LGU and the NBI should check on the lifestyle of “pasat” and present town officials and barangays. I was told some of them drive expensive sports cars and celebrate anniversaries and birthdays in expensive hotels in Manile including the glitzy City of Dreams.
I do not know whether the Local Water Utilities Administration has any regulatory power over Boracay Island Water Co. owned by Ayala and Boracay Tubi of Lucio Tan. You will wonder why a small island like Boracay has two water utilities charging clients P130 per cubic meter! And I heard that collection or desludging of night soil cost P2,630.00 per 3-cubic meter! When the DENR probe team of Secretary Cimatu started opening drainage canals and sewerage pipes, they discovered how these were interconnected and tons of refuse go out to the sea fertilizing the water with coliform bacteria.
When tables are laid out to the beach line, the owners pay P300 per table. Do not ask me who collects but if the stall owners want to cooperate with the government they better tell all so that the beach, the waters and the local government units should be rid of filth and corruption. Then maybe in less than six months the glory and fame of Boracay will once more resonate all over the world.
For yielding to the imposition and demands of the corrupt, the resort establishments have to suffer the consequence. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango”.