NEWS & VIEWS
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.