Boracay writ large
There is no debate that Boracay needs to be rescued. But as is often the case with the government, dramatic solutions may worsen the problem — or ultimately fail to change the status quo.
Even so, the President has called rightful attention to the environmental problems of Boracay, and something good can come out of this development — but only if the concerned agencies are allowed to apply fair, evidence-based, and sustainable solutions. As some senators have suggested, focusing on the violators is reasonable, and even a temporary closure at some point may be acceptable, but it must be carefully thought through. Importantly, if the government is sincere in its concern to save the island paradise, then it must clarify news about its having approved a $500-million casino: a move that would throw its motives into question—and its credibility into a cesspool.
Beyond Boracay, moreover, there are countless environmental issues that require our attention; one possible negative consequence of our focus on the island is if we end up looking at it as a propitiation for all our environmental sins.
In Palawan, for instance, local officials continue to see the construction of more hotels, buildings, and roads (“Build, build, build!”) as the paramount measure of progress—and never mind the environment. “The city is losing its character,” one of my friends in Puerto Princesa lamented, citing the indiscriminate cutting of age-old trees. Something’s wrong when attracting tourists becomes more important than the tourist attraction itself — but this is happening not just in Palawan but throughout the archipelago.
Meanwhile, Gina Lopez is gone and the specter of destructive mining remains. While I do not rule out the possibility of “responsible mining,” the sad reality is that mining — both small and large-scale — has done irreparable harm to our country and very powerful interests are allowing it to keep doing so. And then illegal logging continues, despite a 2011 moratorium and Mr. Duterte’s professed desire to do something about it. As we have seen in the aftermath of typhoons and heavy monsoon rains, both mining and logging are matters of social justice as it is the poor and the marginalized that are affected most by the ensuing floods, landslides, and loss of livelihood.
And what of our reefs, mangroves, and coasts? What of our biodiversity, the endangered species whose lives are an escape from hunters and destroyed habitats?
When we speak of “nature,” we often imagine it to be a distant place, but it’s actually right in our backyard. The deforestation of Ipo Watershed — just 20 kilometers away from Metro Manila—is barely noticed; the members of the Bantay Gubat there have not been paid for months. Seven years after the yet unresolved murders of Palawan’s Gerry Ortega and Mount Makiling’s Jojo Malinao, forest rangers and environmental activists in Ipo, Caraga, and all over the country continue to face threats to their lives.
Yesterday, the Forest Foundation of the Philippines launched the “Best Friends of the Forest” campaign; on the 24th WWF Philippines will celebrate Earth Hour; on May 5 mountaineers will hold the 5th National Mountain Cleanup Day. Hopefully, these and many other worthy initiatives can reawaken Filipinos to what’s at stake in our environment, and instill a sense of responsibility in those who visit our natural wonders. As Boracay and the recent fire on Mount Pulag remind us, the mere act of “experiencing” nature can harm it.
To be fair, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is already looking at Palawan and Panglao; in fact many of its personnel have been working hard to address environmental concerns with little attention and often with even less political support. But as far as the President and the public are concerned, I hope we realize that rehabilitating Boracay is not enough. Protecting a few islands may allow us to feel good, and convince ourselves that we are doing “something” for the environment. But far broader action is required. The Philippines is Boracay writ large, and if we fail to act on our environmental crises, the whole country is the paradise that we may lose forever.
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