THE Department of Tourism (DOT) will be suspending the accreditation of resorts on Boracay Island to further stop the environmental distress of the island due to seawater pollution.
In a news statement, Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo said: “We are imposing a six-month moratorium on accrediting accommodations on Boracay, during which resorts and other establishments must acquire and maintain individual water-treatment facilities, and connect to the central sewerage system.”
She said this would help prevent the continued harmful disposal of untreated wastewater into the sea surrounding the island‘s three barangays—Balabag, Manoc-Manoc and Yapak. The central sewerage system is administered by the Boracay Island Water Corp., a company owned by the Makati-based Ayala Group.
Lawyer Helen Catalbas, DOT regional director of Western Visayas, told the BusinessMirror that there are about 41 resorts and hotels on Boracay that are currently accredited with the agency. “The greater majority expired a few months ago and the online accreditation system has been off for several months now.” According to the DOT, there are about 600 resorts and other tourism-related establishments on the island.
Meanwhile, Randy Salvador, general manager of Coast Boracay, noted that the interagency Task Force Boracay “will be more credible” in implementing its work program. “The implementing initiatives seem to be on the right track specifically in identifying noncompliant establishments not following DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] guidelines, questioning local government units why they allowed this to happen, and setting the six-month timeline to correct all audit findings.” The other members of the task force are the DOT and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
However, Salvador said the President’s comment, calling Boracay a cesspool, “left a bad impression on potential guests.” He added that it was also “unnecessary” to place the island under a state of calamity, as proposed by the DILG. “It’s a problem, that can be addressed by the island’s stakeholders. Declaring a state of calamity will greatly impact livelihood of the community.”
He also wondered what would happen after the six-month deadline is over and urged government agencies and island stakeholders to be “consistent in implementing these programs for the long haul and not because they are in the hot seat at the moment. This shouldn’t be another example of ningas cogon.” In 2017 there were 2 million visitors in Boracay, of which, half were foreign guests.
Meanwhile, the DOT, in coordination with the DENR and DILG, said it is determined to file the appropriate criminal and administrative charges against establishments and their operators who are responsible for the seawater contamination for violating environmental and tourism laws.
The agency added that while there is no definitive plan to place Boracay under a state of calamity or to close Boracay to international and domestic visitors altogether, it “shares the optimism of well-meaning and law-abiding stakeholder operators that Boracay Island will be completely restored during the six-month period.” The DILG had proposed last week to place Boracay under a state of calamity to allow the national government to take over and implement its rehabilitation program for the island.
For her part, Catalbas said she has proposed to Teo that her regional office suspend its accreditation campaign among tourism establishments, operators and other facilities on the island “while cleansing efforts led by the DENR are ongoing.” She added that “new applications and applications for renewal of DOT accreditation will be held in abeyance until certificate[s] of environmental law compliance issued by the DENR is/are presented.” She also recommended that “only environmental laws-compliant DOT-accredited establishments as certified to by the DENR shall be recommended for participation in national/international travel fairs, missions or road shows sponsored by the DOT or the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). The TPB is the marketing arm of the tourism department.
On February 5 President Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año to rehabilitate Boracay in six months, or he will be forced to close the island.
Malacañang said it will still wait for the recommendation of Cimatu on the need to place Boracay under a state of calamity for six months and for the island to be closed for 60 days.
Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. said in a news briefing that “everything is speculative,” pending the submission of Cimatu’s recommendation.
“During the last Cabinet meeting, it was then that the DENR secretary was given 60 days to come up with the recommendations on what to do with Boracay. So we have to wait until the expiration of the 60 days. All these recommendations are coming before expiration of the period given to the DENR secretary to make its recommendation,” Roque noted.
“The decision on whether we are going for proposal A or B has to be done after the 60-day period given by the President to Cimatu,” he added.
Duterte, Roque said, was “emphatic” in the Cabinet meeting to remind the local government units (LGUs) that it was their obligation to safeguard the environment. “The President was emphatic in the Cabinet meeting, to remind the LGUs that they will incur criminal liability for malfeasance and misfeasance for their failure to protect the natural environment in Boracay. He said it, he was very emphatic; although he will wait for the recommendations of Secretary Cimatu.”
With Bernadette D. Nicolas