Action Asia - - CONTENTS -

Bo­ra­cay set to re­open af­ter en­forced clo­sure, Nepal-china border cross­ing opens, and China gets into ad­ven­ture.

AF­TER A SIX-MONTH c l o s ure f or r e habi l i t a - tion, the cel­e­brated re­sort of Bo­ra­cay in Ak­lan, Philip­pines is set to re­open to tourists on Oc­to­ber 26, de­spite con­tin­u­ing con­fu­sion about what the clo­sure has achieved and what the fu­ture holds. En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DENR) Sec­re­tary Roy Ci­matu made the an­nounce­ment dur­ing a press con­fer­ence af­ter an In­ter-agency Task Force meet­ing on June 19. The de­ci­sion comes less than three months af­ter the shut down on April 16, af­ter Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte de­scribed it as a ‘cesspool’ due to its in­ad­e­quate sew­er­age sys­tem. Though a pre­lim­i­nar y ac­tion plan was de­clared late-may – which in­cluded mon­i­tor­ing road-widen­ing pro­jects, re­mov­ing struc­tures within the No Build Zone and re­lo­cat­ing il­le­gal oc­cu­pants – ru­mours of more far-reach­ing changes have swirled con­tin­u­ally. Ac­cord­ing to the Philip­pine Daily In­quirer news­pa­per, Bo­ra­cay will un­dergo ‘agrar­ian re­form’ af­ter re­open­ing, with them quot­ing Duterte as say­ing: “I will give it to the farm­ers, to the Filipino first.” At the other end of the spec­trum, other sources have spec­u­lated about a US$500 mil­lion casino re­sort, given that Ma­cau-based Galaxy En­ter­tain­ment and lo­cal part­ner Leisure Re­sorts World Cor­po­ra­tion ac­quired a 23-hectare par­cel of land be­side Manoc-manoc, one of Bo­ra­cay’s less fre­quented beaches, as well as a pro­vi­sional li­cense for op­er­a­tion, be­fore the six-month clo­sure. Both com­pa­nies failed to re­spond to our in­ter­view re­quests prior to pub­li­ca­tion date. “There are no de­tails about what [the re­open­ing] ac­tu­ally means,” Nancy Bi­nay, chair­per­son of the Se­nate com­mit­tee on tourism, told The Philip­pine Star news­pa­per. “Be­fore we even talk about re­open­ing Bo­ra­cay, we should first dis­cuss the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity.” Of­fi­cial data from 2008 put Bo­ra­cay’s car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity at 35,000. Be­fore it was closed, the is­land had a pop­u­la­tion of 32,000, with vis­i­tor num­bers es­ti­mated to reach well over 100,000 on any given day at peak times. Cur­rent sug­gested lim­its for swim­ming and sun­bathing ar­eas are put at 5,000 and 8,000 vis­i­tors re­spec­tively. The gov­ern­ment is hop­ing to roll out up­dated data by the end of Au­gust, once fur­ther stud­ies are com­pleted. “The six-month clo­sure is very painful,” com­mented Nenette Graf, owner of a re­sort and wind­surf­ing schools on the is­land and Pres­i­dent of Bo­ra­cay Foun­da­tion, a non-profit as­so­ci­a­tion that

fo­cuses on the is­land’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. “Not one life has been left un­touched by this re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion – big and small, every­one has been af­fected. Peo­ple have sac­ri­ficed, in­comes were lost, fam­i­lies dis­placed, prop­er­ties aban­doned, all for the sake of what we all hope for a bet­ter Bo­ra­cay.” Graf said she’s seen build­ings on the beach de­mol­ished, wa­ter util­i­ties up­graded to en­sure waste­water is prop­erly treated prior to en­ter­ing the ocean and il­le­gally con­nected pipes sev­ered. The shut­down was thought by many a bold move, con­sid­er­ing tourism on the is­land brought in 56 bil­lion pe­sos in 2017, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from the Ak­lan Pro­vin­cial Tourism Of­fice; and that the clo­sure spanned the peak sea­son of May to July. Dur­ing this time, more than a thou­sand busi­ness es­tab­lish­ments and res­i­dences re­ceived no­tice of their vi­o­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, leav­ing more than 26,000 work­ers with­out a job. Of the to­tal em­ploy­ees dis­placed, more than 80% be­longed to the for­mal sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to The Philip­pine Star. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have long known of the ur­gency of the pol­lu­tion is­sue and var­i­ous ef­forts at more sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment date back to 1987. The most re­cent was in 2007, when a six-month mora­to­rium was or­dered on new con­struc­tion, prior to in­tro­duc­ing a new 25-year de­vel­op­ment plan for the is­land. But though rules have long ex­isted, com­pli­ance has re­mained a ques­tion mark. Aside from the ‘cesspool’ of un­treated waste­water, Bo­ra­cay’s rapid de­vel­op­ment to cater to tourism has dam­aged wet­lands which once served as catch­wa­ters for rain and a nat­u­ral wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tem. En­dan­gered an­i­mal and plant species have been im­pacted too, in­clud­ing fly­ing foxes and hawks­bill tur­tles. A 2015 study pub­lished by the Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency also in­di­cated se­ri­ous degra­da­tion of Bo­ra­cay’s coral reef. Though Duterte’s ac­tion in clos­ing the re­sort seems ex­treme, it may just be what the is­land needs in terms of restora­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity – or it may not. We will soon get to judge its im­me­di­ate ef­fect. But like much about this pres­i­dent’s ten­ure, the true reck­on­ing may come only once he is no longer in of­fice.

BE­FORE & LONG BE­FORE Left: Al­gal bloom on White Beach, April 2018; and a view from a nearby spot in 2003.

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