By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent
Years of aggressively marketing Boracay Island as the ultimate happening place for all sorts of travelers has come to a head with President Rodrigo Duterte describing the famous tourist destination a “cesspool”. He meant it literally, because some establishments have reportedly been dumping untreated wastewater into the island’s tranquil waters.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has so far issued notices of violation to 51 establishments. The Agency is monitoring 300 establishments for compliance with the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, which requires establishments and households alike to dispose their septic waste to a treatment facility.
Violators are given two months to comply with the law, or else face closure.
The remedy is either to connect to the sewage treatment plant of Boracay Island Water Company (BIWC) or install their own wastewater treatment facilities. The DENR has noted that some establishments took to illegally connecting to a BIWC drainage system that was intended only for rainwater.
These illegal connections caused the drainage pipes to overflow and the untreated wastewater to be discharged directly to Boracay beach.
Frequent flooding has also plagued the island since the onslaught of Typhoon Urduja last December.
“Let this Boracay issue serve notice to local governments, businesses and residents of other tourism destinations to strictly follow all our laws. Let us not allow the other beautiful and pristine islands in the country to suffer the fate of Boracay,” DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu was quoted in an agency press release issued February 14.
The DENR secretary is grappling with a six-month deadline issued by Duterte two weeks ago at a Cabinet meeting. If the appropriate clean-up does not happen, the entire island will be closed down, the President warned.
This threat of a shutdown has “deeply alarmed” local establishments, according to the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI), which describes itself as the biggest business organization in Boracay that has been around for more than 20 years. The group welcomed the six-month ultimatum issued by Duterte, but wondered if the President was fed unverified data.
“While indeed there are many violators, most of the island’s business establishments are strictly in compliance with prevailing ordinances and regulations. BFI sees it unjust to close the entire island at the expense of the compliant establishments,” BFI said in a statement issued February 12.
Still, it is an opportunity to finally address festering issues. “It has long been the plea of the business sector through the BFI that Boracay be given the attention it so rightfully deserves, being the country’s premier tourist destination, generating PHP 56 billion in tourism receipts, providing livelihood and jobs to Filipinos from all over the country. We have continuously expressed our frustration and dismay over the lack of attention given by the national government and other offices concerned for the island of Boracay.
Now that Malacañang is keen on fixing Boracay, we are hopeful that Boracay’s issues may finally be addressed as agencies and departments concerned will be pressured to urgently fix the island’s problems,” it said in the statement.
Aside from the illegal dumping of sewage into the sea, these problems include the deterioration of the materials recovery facility in Barangay Manoc-Manoc into an open dumpsite, lease arrangements that are disadvantageous to indigenous people, and structures breaching the 30-meter easement from the shoreline and others illegally built in forestland zones.
“The compliance of the local government of Boracay to R.A. 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000) will also be evaluated. There are too many resorts and people in Boracay that the island has gone beyond its carrying capacity,” DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones, also Cimatu’s spokesman, was quoted in a separate agency press release last February 6.
Cimatu has called on the local government of Malay, Aklan to step up to its responsibility over Boracay, where he intends to impose a moratorium on the construction of new buildings and the opening of new establishments.
Accused violators could have their water connections cut off as soon as this week. Illegal structures will also be demolished.
“The local government of Malay has direct jurisdiction and supervision over Boracay. It is the primary government unit responsible in ensuring that all laws, environmental or otherwise, are executed and followed,” Cimatu was quoted in the February 14 press release.
“We have to go back to the core of the problem which is the strict enforcement of all existing laws and the protection of the environment,” he added.