Boracay, voted number one island in the world by tourists, is without environmental issues. This was magnified when torrential rains brought by typhoon Urduja flooded parts of the road in station one and outskirts, resurrecting past complaints of leaking sewage, illegal structures, and overdevelopment.
In a press conference held recently, DOT Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores, and Malay (Boracay) Mayor Ceciron Cawaling faced media to dispel rumors of inefficiency and revealed that they are forming a partnership that will address the issues once and for all.
Starting with an ocular via a helicopter ride, the two Secretaries saw the extent of damage brought about by the typhoon and illegal structures inside the island’s protected timberland areas.
“The reason why we flew by helicopter is to check the status of the timberlands and we saw that there are structures there. They have to explain why they are there, and if they got their permits through DENR personnel, we will pinpoint the responsible person who will have to answer for it,” Cimatu related.
According to Cimatu, there are three timberland areas in Boracay and the only way that a structure can be built is if it has a Forest Land Use Agreement for Tourism Purposes (FLAgT). A FLAgT is a permit given to allow a property temporary use, occupation and development of any forest land for tourism purposes for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years. The agreement covers forest lands to be used for camp sites, ecotourism destinations, bathing, hotel sites, among other tourism purposes.
“If they are already there, we will inspect if they have built structures for their workers and other sites as well as informal settlers who are competing in water and drainage and garbage disposal. These are the things that I am going to enforce as political will is needed to protect Boracay,” he added.
On the other hand, Secretary Teo imparted that she will review the 100 or so establishments to check who among them have tapped into the pipes of the unfinished TIEZA rainwater drainage project that is supposed to rid the island of floodwaters during storms.
“The project is only for rainwater but some hotels have tapped into the pipes for their sewage disposal, “Teo confided stating that hotels found guilty will lose their DOT accreditations.
A necessary partnership
Admitting that DOT does not have the mandate to enforce environmental laws, Teo is banking on her newly formed partnership with DENR and the LGU of Aklan to have an effective working group to tackle the seemingly omnipresent Boracay environmental problems.
“We are actually being blamed for environmental issues which we are not mandated to enforce. We do not have police powers, so we can only help with funding projects through TIEZA. The four of us, Secretary Cimatu, Governor Miraflores, myself, and Mayor Cawaling, will be meeting every now and then to monitor developments. We like to fix the Boracay problem that much that Secretary Cimatu and I will be presenting our recommendations to Pres. Duterte in the next cabinet meeting for him to issue an Executive Order, if needed. For as long as I am Secretary of Tourism, I will do everything to fix Boracay, that is my promise, “she stated.
On the other hand, Governor Miraflores was ecstatic in expressing his joy that the long awaited TIEZA drainage project is now moving forward. The project is a public-private sector partnership between TIEZA and the Boracay Island Water Company (BIWC), a subsidiary of Manila Water Company, who will be in charge of maintenance and operation.
“I am happy that the long awaited drainage project will push through instead of being developed by phases, to be implemented in one go. Hopefully by 2019, the problem of flooding will be non-existent. Aside from that, there will be a feedback mechanism that will allow the mayor and I to hear your complaints so we can relay it to the two secretaries to submit to the president. Hopefully it will be acted upon. Boracay, despite criticisms and issues, is still number one in the world. We just have to be vigilant.”
Phase one of the two-phase, four-stage project was completed in 2014 with a budget of PhP716 million and designed to alleviate flooding on the 11-hectare central business district of the island. Phase two was supposed to start last year. The phase will have four stages that will start with pipe-laying so that treated water will not be discharged into Bulabog beach, but will be diverted to a wetland site.
A TIEZA executive relayed to media that stage one of phase two was already awarded to a winning bidder and an added budget of PhP400 million will finish three stages by the second quarter of 2019 on the way to stage 4 and completing the project.