Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who was reportedly authorized by President Duterte to decide on the fate of Boracay, will assess the cooperation of Boracay stakeholders in the implementation of remedial measures before he makes a final recommendation on the island’s possible closure.
“If they will not cooperate, well, the secretary might eventually recommend closure,” lawyer Jonas R. Leones, Cimatu’s designated spokesman, told the BusinessMirror.
“Given our deadline by the President, the DENR secretary is determined to work faster and the cooperation of all stakeholders is needed.”
Government sources, who attended the Cabinet meeting on Monday that stretched late close to midnight, confirmed the decision of Duterte to wait for Cimatu’s recommendation. “The DENR was given the authority to decide whether or not to close Boracay, per
[instruction of] President Duterte,” said a government source in a Viber message to
the BusinessMirror. Leones said this means “the President has faith and trusts Secretary Cimatu.”
But President Duterte said on Tuesday he is mulling over the proposal of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to declare a state of calamity in Boracay.
“If Boracay is under a state of calamity, assistance could be given to those who will be displaced financially,” the President said in his speech during the oathtaking of the members of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission at the Rizal Hall in Malacañang.
It had been expected that Duterte would decide on the fate of the popular island-resort after Cimatu would have presented an update on what Task Force Boracay has accomplished so far since being instructed to rehabilitate the island. Aside from the DENR, the task force members include the departments of the Interior and Local Government, Tourism, Public Works and Highways, and of Justice.
A separate government source, however, said Cimatu wasn’t able to make his presentation during the Cabinet meeting, as the agenda was packed full. But Duterte did instruct Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo to “promote Boracay only when it’s been rehabilitated. For now, let it go,” the source added.
Cimatu told reporters after a Senate hearing on the island last Friday he couldn’t recommend Boracay’s closure just yet until the sewage problem and other issues are addressed. (See, “Decision day: To close or not to close Boracay,” in the BusinessMirror, March 5, 2018.)
But Leones, also the DENR undersecretary for policy, planning, international affairs and foreign-assisted projects, said when push comes to shove, Cimatu “might change his mind.”
Cimatu had already tasked the Boracay Island Water Co. Inc. to connect its two sewerage-treatment plants.
The DENR chief, Leones added, had already asked property owners to cooperate by voluntarily dismantling illegal structures along the beachfront and to comply with the 30-meter easement rule.
According to Leones, the DENR will pursue its laid out plan, dubbed “Operational Plan: Regain Paradise,” whether or not the President will eventually order a moratorium on tourism activities on the entire island.
“Our plan on saving Boracay is not anchored on the possibilities of closing Boracay to tourists. Whether Boracay is closed to tourists or not, the DENR will implement our plan,” he said.
In implementing Oplan: Regain Paradise, he said drastic measures will be inevitable, and it will require political will.
If properly executed, the six-month plan would eliminate the problems besetting Boracay, hence, allowing it to regain its status as the country’s top tourist destination worthy of the tag “island paradise” by 2022.
This will require the filing of cases and actions ranging from the issuance of notices of violation, the imposition of fines for violations of various environmental laws to closing establishments and, worse, dismantling of buildings illegally constructed in areas they are not supposed to be built.
A follow-through stage of one year and a way forward stage until 2022 will guide the succeeding operations, according to the document.
Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, who chaired the Senate hearing, vehemently opposed the closure of the entire island and recommended that only violators be closed instead of penalizing even those who were compliant with environmental and easement laws. Villar’s family-led property firm, Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc., owns Boracay Sands Resort along Station 3, while Vista Residences is developing Costa Vista Boracay, leisure homes and condominiums in Barangay Yapak.
As this developed, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said it was collaborating with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to address the possible economic displacement of some 19,000 workers on the island, if and when the President does decide to close it.
“We are aware of the situation of Boracay, but we cannot just discount the thousands of employees and their families and the economic contribution of the island through its tourist receipts and job employment. We have to strike a balance between the environment and the economy,” Teo said in a news statement.
The island, famous the world over for its powdery, white-sand beach, attracted over 2 million tourists last year, up 16 percent from the record number in 2016. Employment on the island also accounted for 66 percent of the entire Western Visayas region and generated revenues of some P56 billion in 2017.
Lawyer Helen Catalbas, regional director for Western Visayas, noted that most of the workers on the island are from Cebu, Negros Occidental and Oriental, Manila, and other provinces in Luzon. But she said her office is already closely coordinating with the DOLE on profiling the workers on the island and with other local government units to relocate employees that may be laid off during the rehabilitation of Boracay.
Teo added, “Those who will be affected can work with the demolition of illegal structures and the construction of the improved sewage system and road infrastructure.” In the meantime, resorts and other tourism establishments can polish and upgrade their facilities and manpower during the rehab.