President Duterte recently declared that he would support recommendations to close the entire island of Boracay in order to address its environmental problems. If the President makes good on his threat, he will be applying to Boracay the same solution he has used on the nation’s drug problem.
There’s a drug problem? Kill! There’s a Boracay problem? Close!
The President’s inclination to use the most severe solution — even with a range of other options available — betrays a lack of patience to make distinctions on the different shades of a crisis. It shows that the President views the world in black and white. It reveals that the Philippines’ leader is blind to the nuances of his people’s problems, and the degrees of liability of the multitude of actors.
Most lamentably, the President is insensitive to the great collateral damage that his action brings.
Never mind the thousands of orphans and widows whose lives are irreparably scarred and whose futures are permanently altered by the loss of a loved one. Never mind if the loved one killed was not a peddler of illegal drugs but a mere user suffering addiction because of a family problem, economic reasons, or social circumstances. Never mind if the loved one slain had potentials for rehabilitation. In the mind of our President, all drug personalities are lurking murderers, rapists, and robbers.
Never mind the many resorts and other business establishments that are compliant with environmental regulations on Boracay. Never mind if these businesses contracted huge loans the repayment of which is dependent on continuing commercial operations. Never mind if they face the risk of loan foreclosure.
Never mind if 36,000 people will lose their jobs, and they simply have to hibernate and ignore all needs for food, clothing and shelter for a period of six months. Never mind if the planned closure will result in the loss of P56 billion in tourism receipts, and the big chunk of tax revenues that result from it.
Boracay has a special place in my heart because I was the lead counsel who filed an environmental case in 2011 to stop the province of Aklan from proceeding with a 40-hectare land reclamation project in Boracay and neighboring Barangay Caticlan.
During oral arguments in the Supreme Court, I pointed out that the reclamation would disrupt the natural flow of water in the sea channel that separates Boracay and Caticlan. Scientists have observed that the flow of water in the sea channel is responsible for the movement of the white sand of Boracay, which rotate locations around the island at different months of the year. This annual movement enables the sand to be naturally washed and cleaned, and it is for this reason that it retains its world-famous pristine color. The Supreme Court sustained our arguments by issuing a permanent protection order banning the reclamation from further proceeding.
Before the reclamation case, I spent years representing one of the original families of Boracay in cases that involved land disputes. I would attend court hearings in Kalibo, and then spend the weekend in my client’s Boracay resort almost every month for an entire decade. I saw Boracay evolve from an island lighted with bamboo torches to what it is now today.
That Boracay has environmental problems because several business establishments violate environmental regulations is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is that these problems exist because the government has conspired with, or has been recklessly negligent in allowing, erring establishments to operate. The government shares equal if not larger blame for the problems of Boracay. Where do the tens of millions of pesos in environmental fees paid by Boracay tourists go?
The government should identify and close the specific business establishments guilty of violations, as well as prosecute the government officials who enabled them to operate. But in the process, it must protect the innocent establishments that have been faithful in their efforts to keep Boracay alive.
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