Pamalakaya, the alliance of fisher folks and fishing communities affiliated with the left-leaning Makabayan group, is wrong on the matter of government’s partnership with big companies for the rehabilitation of Boracay’s wetlands. The partnership program is a straightforward effort to harness all hands to get Boracay on its feet again as the country’s premier island tourist destination.
There is nothing in the agreements signed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the lead agency in the ongoing six-month cleanup, with the Aboitiz Group for Wetland 4 and the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. for Wetland 2, to even remotely suggest any hidden, diabolical plan to have these companies take over the wetlands for any other reason than to clean up, rehabilitate and turn these into ecological and nature parks.
In fact, the seven wetlands in the island have been declared no-build zones, which is precisely the reason why structures earlier built on these areas have been demolished altogether.
The agreements entered into by these companies as part of their corporate social responsibility programs have very specific tasks and timelines. The plans agreed upon envision a three-year joint rehabilitation effort after which the cleaned-up areas will be turned over to the government. If by that time Pamalakaya and its allies will have the mind to take over the wetlands to sustain their main role as the island’s “living, flowing organ,” I have no doubt that the DENR would be ready to accord the same courtesies and assistance as it is now providing the big companies.
Truth be told, the cleanup and rehabilitation of Boracay and all other islands and communities for that matter, all across the land, will require our collective participation. Government cannot do it alone. Big business cannot do it alone. NGOs and POs cannot do it alone. We need all hands on deck.
Which is why it is a pity that my friend and colleague in the 16th Congress, Pamalakaya chairman Fernando “Pandong” Hicap, went on a stretch to taint the ongoing cleanup of the country’s premier island tourist destination as a “mere subterfuge, a pseudo-revival for the entry of big companies to further privatize and rake in more profits at the expense of small and medium enterprises and displacing some residents.”
Obviously Ka Pandong is unaware of the details of the “Adopt-A-Wetland” Project involving some of the country’s major companies. By surmising that the project is a mere subterfuge, a “farce” as he calls it, the Pamalakaya chairman has thrown all good sense to the wind. Even his statement advising that “we don’t buy the idea that these companies notorious for raking profits from environmental exploitation will help rehabilitate Boracay out of benevolence” is a giveaway. It is clear he and his group do not have any idea what the agreements contain, including the obligations of the parties, and especially the big companies.
I can understand where Ka Pandong is coming from given Pamalakaya’s history and alliances. As he himself emphasized, citing his group’s documentation, he cannot believe for a moment that the firms which signed up with DENR are doing so out of the goodness of their owners’ hearts. He noted that “the firms that signed the MOAs are the same ones that operate coal power plants in coastal areas of Calaca, Batangas, Pagbilao, Quezon and Limay, Bataan that gravely affect the livelihood of fishermen and endanger the lives of coastal residents.”
We are of course against such kind of destruction. Nobody in his right mind would like any initiative which would “endanger the lives of fisherfolk and affect their livelihood.” But that argument is neither nor there. It cannot be used as the basis to slam the “Adopt-A-Wetland” project as a farce, a subterfuge. The deleterious effect of the operation of the coal plants in the cited coastal areas, if any, should be brought to the attention of the DENR, the LGUs and the Department of Energy so that the same can be properly addressed and dealt with accordingly. But to raise it as a basis to object to the planned joint partnership to rehabilitate the Boracay wetlands is way too much. It is, in a very real sense, a kind of scare crow, a false argument which does not have any bearing in the ongoing “all hands on deck” effort to get Boracay on its feet.
Indeed, if Ka Pandong and Pamalakaya are really interested in cleaning up Boracay, helping small and medium enterprises and rescuing displaced residents, the best way to do that is discuss their concerns with DENR and the other agencies involved in Boracay’s rehabilitation to ensure that the same will be properly and responsibly addressed. They will be pleasantly surprised that DENR and Secretary Roy Cimatu will be more than happy to accommodate their reasonable concerns.