By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent
President Rodrigo Duterte is going with the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) plan to declare a state of calamity in Boracay in order to hasten the rehabilitation of the top tourist destination and at the same time provide financial aid to displaced workers.
The President revealed his next move at the oath-taking ceremony for officials of the Philippine Anti-Corruption Commission held last March 6 in Malacañang.
“I know it works hardships and that is why I would be declaring a state of calamity. Ang state of calamity, may component ‘yan na pambigay talaga for those who are displaced financially. Para na rin kung ano, may bagyong dumaan, magbigay ka ng pera,” Duterte said.
“In the meantime, if I were from Boracay or you guys there, the best thing for you to do is to cooperate with the government and hasten the clean-up. For as long as there are s**t coming out of those pipes draining to the sea, I will never give you the time of the day na bumalik diyan,” he added.
The President said he would invoke public interest, health and safety in declaring the state of calamity and cautioned the courts against interfering with the process. He would publicly shame those who would, since “it’s a racket actually,” Duterte said.
As many as 173 big establishments are operating without an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) on Boracay Island, it was learned during the first hearing held on-site March 2 by the Senate committee on environment and natural resources. More than 30 percent of business establishments on the island have already been found to be non-compliant with various environmental laws.
The root issue seems to be the failure of the local government unit (LGU) to require an ECC before issuing permits. During the Senate hearing, the mayor of Malay, Aklan reasoned that since the ECC is from the national government, it is “hiwalay sa LGU.”
However, DILG OIC-Sec. Eduardo Año acknowledged during the hearing that the ECC is indeed a requirement nationwide. Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu also emphasized that Boracay Island was declared a protected forestland in 2006, meaning that requirements for ECC clearance are more stringent there.
As Cimatu and other officers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported their findings, the extent of transgressions over the past 10 years came to light. A 140-strong team from the DENR, escorted by military and police forces, has been serving notices of violation across the island since February 23.
Cimatu himself has been making the rounds, interacting with owners of business establishments and island residents, based on a video he presented during the hearing. He also revealed it wasn’t his first mission in Aklan, because he was the battalion commander in 1989 of the military team that cleared insurgency hotspots on northern Panay Island so that the general public could find their way to the then-pristine island of Boracay. Cimatu is a retired military general.
The big picture is that four out of nine wetlands on the island have been taken over by illegal settlers that include big-time resorts and the famous D’Mall.
Among the resorts named by the DENR’s provincial officer during the hearing were Alta Vista de Boracay Hotel, which boasts “the best view from one of Boracay’s highest peaks” because it is situated in a forestland zone; Kingfisher Farm, a theme park featuring fishponds, a recreation center and a seafood restaurant in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, and Seven Seas Hotel And Residences Boracay, a 2.2-hectare luxury project in Barangay Yapak that is under construction. Aklan Rep. Carlito Marquez also named Crown Regency Boracay as a catch basin settler, which however won on a legal technicality against the DENR.
Meanwhile, Boracay West Cove on Diniwid Beach had its forest land agreement for tourism, a sort of concession granted by the DENR, cancelled in 2015 because it developed more than 3,000 square meters when its concession covered only 998 sq.m., according to testimony of DENR’s director for Region 6. West Cove, which erected the viewing deck that was recently demolished in the ongoing island sweep, remains operational despite having no current business or construction permit, because it appealed its case before the Office of the President.
“These (encroached) wetlands are one of the culprits in this (ongoing) pollution… I have to restore the wetlands,” Cimatu said, explaining that wetlands are catchment areas that prevent flooding and help raise water quality, which have both deteriorated in Boracay.
While it is still safe to swim around the White Beach area, the same cannot be said on the Bolabog Beach side. Fecal coliform tests done on February 13 and 19 indicated 350 most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml in the waters of Bolabog Beach, according to Cimatu. This shows an improvement from January’s 592 MPN/100 ml, but exceeds the 200 MPN/100 ml standard for fecal coliform.
“We cannot compromise and sacrifice our natural treasures solely for the sake of monetary profit,” said Tourism Sec. Wanda Teo, who also revealed that alternative destinations near Boracay, such as Cebu and Guimaras, would be promoted in order to absorb displaced workers and tourists.
A massive demolition is in store for Boracay, DILG’s Año — formerly a military chief of staff — noted during the Senate hearing. Last Tuesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. told Malacañang reporters that no specific courses of action were discussed during the Cabinet meeting of March 5.
“The President said that while we are in the process of legal and factual fact-finding, that the initiatives as far as local government officials that allowed the many violations in Boracay shall be led by the DILG; whereas, the compliance with environmental laws will be led by the DENR,” Roque said.
Based on Duterte’s own pronouncements, he expects Año to show results within four months.