To his critics, the leadership style of President Duterte is nothing short of dictatorial. But there are instances when this type of leadership can have positive results.
The government bureaucracy is usually slow moving. But when President Duterte made two pronouncements recently, agencies snapped to attention and reacted aggressively. This is what happened in the case of Joanna Demafelis.
This is also what is happening to Boracay. The President simply said that Boracay has now become a virtual cesspool, and look at what is happening. With that statement, government agencies descended on the island to do what should really have been done long before the problem developed. The focus now is how to improve, protect and maintain Boracay as a world-class tourist destination.
Whether the government will eventually come up with the right decisions to solve the problem is another matter. At least now, it has been given the opportunity to solve a long-festering problem. Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already ordered the demolition of some structures and for all business establishments to connect to the island’s central sewer system.
This is a good first move but a lot more really must be done. We have to remember that this Boracay problem as in many other problems in the country did not develop overnight. It happened over several years of poor government planning, insufficient environmental regulations, and the lax enforcement of environmental and other regulations.
This is not only happening in Boracay but in other major tourist destinations in the country as well.
Several years ago, the presence of algae on the beach should have alerted authorities as a sign of sewer being discharged into the beach because of the uncontrolled building of so many establishments so close to the shoreline. The response to this was at that time at best very anaemic, so the problem worsened over the years.
Now, it will be difficult to demolish or move structures to conform to building regulations. This was because the effort before to limit construction was a total failure. It should also have been clear to responsible government officials both local and national that due to the size of the island, it cannot support unlimited structures and people without degrading the environment. Even the well-meaning attempts of planning, were never realized. And sadly it is like this in many tourist gems that we have. The Banaue Rice Terraces, the so-called eighth wonder of the world, is also having problems because of population pressure. Many houses have been built along the road constricting the magnificent view of the terraces.
So far, the underwater river in Palawan has escaped environmental degradation due to the strict policy of limiting the number of visitors allowed during the day which hopefully will continue in order to preserve the pristine condition of the river. The location of the river is also helping in preserving its condition. If there was land near the river, it is doubtful whether the government will be able to prohibit the construction of business establishments near the river or at its entrance.
Several years ago, there was also a news item about an attempt to quarry the famous chocolate hills of Bohol. Fortunately before any huge damage was done, the quarrying was stopped. What is it with us that we have a gem of a place but cannot seem to preserve and maintain it for the people to enjoy? Instead, we end up degrading the place. Is that what Filipino standard is all about? Until such time that we learn to upgrade our standards, we will never be able to step out of being a third world country. We are the second largest archipelago in the world after Indonesia and therefore have many other beautiful beaches to offer to tourists both local and international. But we have to learn to develop and maintain tourist facilities in a manner that is internationally acceptable. Otherwise, we will lose out to other countries in the region.
Thailand and Malaysia attract more than 20 million foreign tourists each year while we attracted a little more than 6M tourists last year. If we will not be able to get Boracay back to its old condition, then our country will eternally be playing catch up with our neighbors. Boracay is not a big island like Bali so there is therefore really no reason why we cannot upgrade the tourist facilities there. The white powdery beach of the island which is the main attraction is more than five kilometers long and is a lot longer than the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro which is only a little over three kilometers long. The Boracay beach is something that we as a country should be able to preserve for everyone to enjoy because there are very few places like it in the planet. It is a good thing that the President took notice of the situation and got all relevant government agencies to start moving. Hopefully, things will improve and be kept that way. There are many things that both local and national agencies must look at. The distance of structures to the shoreline, the number of structures to be allowed and the kind of business to be permitted to operate.
Demolishing those structures without building and business permits are probably not enough. Planning has got to be done and regulations must have to be enforced strictly. Even if Boracay is a public beach, some protocols must be established if we want the place to be attractive and clean and not a cesspool as President Duterte describes it.