Decongestion, P1.16-B drainage project hoped to end Boracay woes

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

BORACAY Island, Aklan—Plagued with incessant flooding, especially during severe typhoons and thunderstorms, the resort island of Boracay has been “gifted” with a P1.16-billion drainage project by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), the infrastructure arm of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo made the announcement during a joint press conference with Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu at the Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa on Tuesday.

“Boracay is a nice place to go. I’ve been talking to foreign tourists and they all want to come to Boracay. But many tour operators have said the water has become dirty. When they swim their skin becomes itchy. So we want to do something to fix Boracay,” she said. For 2017, she said, P760 million has been approved for the drainage project on the island, and for 2018, “Tieza is seeking another board approval for P400 million.” The project is scheduled to be completed by 2019.

Boracay’s perennial flooding problem attracted national attention again after photos circulated on social media of the main road under waist-deep water in the aftermath of Typhoon Urduja, which swept through Aklan.

Data from DOT-Western Visayas showed visitor arrivals in Boracay reached 2 million in 2017, up almost 18 percent from the arrivals in 2016. Of the 2 million arrivals, 986,920 were foreigners.

For his part, Cimatu said the DENR hopes to “decongest Boracay,” by closing down establishments which have violated environmental laws, such as the Philippine Clean Water Act. He added the DENR will be joining the municipal government of Malay, of which Boracay is a part of, in making an inventory of the establishments here, “checking which buildings have permits or without, who are connected to the drainage and sewage system…[as well as] those who have permits to build in timberland areas.”

Although the DENR issues forest land-use agreements for tourism purposes (FLATP), he said he noticed that during the helicopter flight over the island, there were houses built in forested areas: “These could be houses of building contractors [of new resorts],” he surmised, intimating though that such accommodations are not covered by FLATPs.

Addressing complaints of sewage being discharged directly into the waters, especially in Bulabog, an area known for water sports like parasailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing, Cimatu also said: “We will be testing the waters all over the island, the swimming areas and the catch basins,” adding that this will be done “periodically”, now that the DENR is
reestablishing its office on the island.

In February 2015 the DENR reported that coliform bacteria levels specifically in Bulabog waters exceeded safety standards at 47,460 most probable number (mpn) per 100 milimeter (ml). The safe standard for swimming is 1,000 mpn/100ml. Coliform bacteria nTrmally comes from human excrement.

For his part, Malay Mayor Ceciron Cawaling declined to issue a moratorium on building resorts in Boracay until such time an inventory of establishments are completed. Residents and frequent tourists to Boracay have asserted that the indiscriminate issuance of building permits by the mayor’s office for new resorts and the consequent construction of these new accommodations have put a strain on the island’s resources and infrastructure.

“Before any moratorium is issued, we must first conduct an inventory [of establishments] and how much infrastructure we have,” Cawaling said, noting that the municipal government has recently signed a memorandum of agreement with Palafox and Associates for the creation of a Boracay master plan. He said the inventory of establishments and infrastructure on the island should be completed within the year. “The problem is there was no urban planning for Boracay. The resorts and other establishments were built ahead of any master plan,” he stressed.

In 2008 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 706, which transferred the administration of Boracay Island to the then Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA), the forerunner of Tieza. It also cited Letter of Instruction 1298, which ordered “the mayor of Malay to suspend issuance of building permits for any structure on Boracay Island pending the promulgation of a development plan for the island by the PTA.”

Image credits: Stella Arnaldo

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