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Like It Is

It’s a cesspool

/ 05:22 AM April 05, 2018

The description of Boracay as a “cesspool” was a wonderful strategy that worked. For years people have been complaining of the deterioration of the island, with nothing done beyond platitudinal promises. For years we’ve complained of the growing deterioration of Boracay, and nothing was done. It’s a story replicated throughout the Philippines, with corrupted local officials and thoughtless, nay greedy, resort owners, leading to a cesspool. The local officials should resign in shame.

It had to be declared a cesspool for anything to happen. Now what happens to clean it up has to be maintained. And that, in the Philippines, is a rarity. It means the President will have to continue to monitor the situation. And Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu will have to be there almost weekly, and take it forward to all other resorts. It can’t be left to local officials; they’ll slip back to their old ways. And the courts have to reject efforts to stop the removal of unacceptable structures.

Regarding Boracay, I believe the proposal to fully close it for 60 days is a good idea. For six months? That may be too long. For the same reason “cesspool” worked, it shocks real action. To correct the overbuilding, those resorts without proper permits—and worse, unconnected to wastewater disposal—need a wholesale approach. Have teams mobilized and equipped to do a massive 60-day cleanup and correction.

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But at the same time, honest establishments in Boracay shouldn’t be penalized with loss of business if the island is closed to tourism. But how to go about it? How should national and local governments help them? The compliant resorts could perhaps be

given subsidies to compensate them for their losses. Or free promotion from the Boracay and Aklan tourism offices and the Department of Tourism in giving priority to sending tourists to them. Noncompliant businesses must be heavily penalized. The government should implement a carrot-and-stick policy.

There are two water treatment plants on the island, but I am told only one has the capability to handle sewerage fully. The other still needs to be developed. While some resorts are properly connected to the system, many are not. Even worse, they are able to get permits from the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to discharge their wastes

into the drainage system. How? Secretary Cimatu might want to ask. Which raises the point that the government needs to do its job honestly, and meet its contractual obligations, too (something the last administration violated).

For tourists who have a confirmed stay for that period, maybe there should be an arrangement to go to an equivalent resort elsewhere at no additional cost, and special assistance for the transfer. The Department of Tourism’s decision to promote “alternatives” to Boracay is a step in the right direction.

I disagree that the proposed closure of Boracay would send a negative signal internationally. It’s the very reverse: Properly presented, it can send a very positive message. With the government’s decision to clean up Boracay, I’m sure we’ll see foreign and local tourists returning to the island once the cleanup is completed. But now their number must be restricted to what the island can manage without further damage. The Aklan Provincial Tourism Office expects 2.2 million visitors. It must rethink this and set a lower level that will be allowed. In 2017, for instance, the number of foreign and domestic tourists that visited Boracay reached 2,001,974, surpassing the 2-million mark and higher than what the island can support.

Previous administrations allowed the Philippines’ pristine beaches and beauty to be degraded. This administration’s message can be: “We are bringing Boracay back to its original beauty and cleanliness so you can truly enjoy the world’s top beach resort.”

What has happened to Boracay is a nationwide disease called “greed.” Baguio City cannot be visited today. Try driving down Session Road. Tagaytay has a 30-story monstrosity on its skyline and overbuilding elsewhere. Bohol and Palawan are both at risk. All need the same radical action. But will they get it, and will it be sustained? The abuse of controls is ubiquitous. It’s time it was stopped.

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Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com. E-mail: wallace_likeitis@wbf.ph

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