THE Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has proposed to place Boracay Island under a state of calamity to allow government agencies to implement needed infrastructure programs, clean it up and dismantle illegal buildings.
In a news briefing at the Department of Tourism (DOT), after the inter-agency task force on Boracay met on Wednesday to update the members on work accomplished, DILG Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Epimaco V. Densing III said: “We are now proposing that Boracay Island be placed under a state of calamity. This was because during the initial meeting between [Environment] Secretary [Roy] Cimatu and [Interior] Secretary [Eduardo] Año last week, they talked about the possibility of closing the island or a moratorium on tourist visitations, to be able to fast-track whatever rehabilitation is needed on the island.”
He said the task force, which is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the DILG and the DOT, created a technical working group “to be able to determine the factual basis and legal basis of possibly declaring a state of calamity on the island. If ever the island will be put under a state of calamity, the first thing that will happen is the national government agencies will take over the management and operations of the island for at least six months.”
He stressed that the problem of Boracay really is “an issue of managing it correctly. What we’re saying is, not all local officials that have been elected may necessarily be competent to manage such an island, or a primary tourist destination. So the proposal will make it mandatory for national government agencies to correctly rehabilitate the island in its totality. More than the pollution issues and environmental issues, but also including public safety [and] security to ensure that the island becomes environment-friendly, being a premier tourist destination.”
He explained that, under normal circumstances, it would take years for government agencies to be able to implement their infrastructure program on an island like Boracay. “So if the island is put under a state of calamity, we can fast-track the infrastructure needed to correct the drainage, the sewage system, including [conducting] the audit of the drainage system, because there may be some establishments tapping the [drainage] lines and throwing their pollutants there.
Densing, who just returned from a trip to Boracay on Tuesday, said the declaration of the state of calamity will enable the DILG to “dismantle the illegal structures.
“We know a lot of building- code violations have been made. We’ve been there; we saw a lot of infrastructure that were put up without permits from the local government and had no environmental clearance certificates from the DENR. So, with a state of calamity declaration, it will be easy to dismantle these.” He underscored the need for accountability for the challenges the island is now facing. “We know the island is in a situation right now; those accountable officials have not done their jobs. [These are] local government officials and probably some national government officials…from the DENR.”
Boracay Island, famous the world over for its white-sand beach, is under the local government of Malay, Aklan, which is headed by Mayor Ciceron Cawaling.
Sources said the proposal for the declaration of a state of calamity in Boracay will be presented to President Duterte “anytime soon.” On February 5 Duterte had given the environment and interior secretaries six months to fix the problems of Boracay, which include sewage spilling out into the open sea, violations of easement rules and overbuilding.
Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who had attended the meeting, said he would be going to Boracay on Thursday “to bring my personnel to augment in the operations and performance of cleaning the sewage system [of the island].”
For his part, Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año warned local officials and other people responsible for the environmental destruction and overbuilding in Boracay that they would be held accountable for their actions. “We’ll make sure that those who are responsible or accountable for what happened to Boracay will be meted the appropriate sanctions so that there will be no repeat of whatever happened in Boracay.”
For her part, DENR Undersecretary for Manila Bay Concerns and Related Water Concerns Maria Paz Luna said the agency now has six teams on the ground in Boracay “composed of different regional personnel to prevent any kind of allegations of favoritism.” The teams are made up of technical personnel and lawyers who will be “sweeping” 800 establishments on the island in the next two weeks.
“They are ready to issue immediate notices of violations or interim cease-and-desist orders on the inspection date itself,” she said. “So we urge the public and we urge the establishments in Boracay to start attaching to the sewer lines, to start ensuring that their effluents are within standards, if they are not connected to the sewer line.” According to DOT and DENR officials, sewage that has been treated by chemicals to clean it has to be of “swimming pool” quality before being discharged into the open sea.
Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo said that, in the next meeting of the task force, they will invite Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar and Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II. She added she and Cimatu and Año will be attending the Senate hearing on Boracay scheduled for March 2.
Image credits: Photo courtesy D.O.T.