NEWS & VIEWS

Action Asia - - CONTENTS -

Bo­ra­cay re­opens, sav­ing ele­phants and reefs, and po­ten­tial new MTB trails for HK.

AF­TER A SIX-MONTH clo­sure, Bo­ra­cay’s ‘soft open­ing’ took place on Oc­to­ber 26, 2018 af­ter a gov­ern­ment-man­dated clean-up of the re­sort is­land pre­vi­ously deemed a “cesspool” by Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte. The cat­a­lyst for the clo­sure was poor sewage man­age­ment – high lev­els of E.coli found in the beach wa­ters, linked to un­li­censed es­tab­lish­ments de­posit­ing their waste in storm drains that run di­rectly into the sea. Be­sides that, a bas­ket of other is­sues re­lated to over­ca­pac­ity and in­suf­fi­cient reg­u­la­tion also had to be ad­dressed. Now, only 243 ho­tels and guest­houses are open for busi­ness and vis­i­tors are down to 7,000 (from 100,000 at peak times in the past). All are asked to sign an op­tional “Oath for a Bet­ter Bo­ra­cay” that pledges proper trash dis­posal, pro­tec­tion of wildlife and the nat­u­ral habi­tat, re­frain­ing from smok­ing and drink­ing on the beach and re­cruit­ing fel­low trav­ellers to do the same. Sin­gle-use plas­tics are now banned, while food ven­dors, fur­ni­ture, mas­sages, per­form­ers, and open fires are no longer per­mit­ted on the beach. Busi­nesses have been pushed fur­ther back from the beach, banned from a 30-me­tre zone above the high­est tide­line, while also need­ing to be six me­tres from the cen­tre of the road. The restora­tion and up­grad­ing of Bo­ra­cay’s in­fra­struc­ture is on­go­ing, in­clud­ing the lay­ing of new pipes, storm drains, ca­ble and phone lines, the in­stal­la­tion of elec­tri­cal posts, and the re-con­cret­ing and widen­ing of roads. There are how­ever re­ports from var­i­ous news sources, in­clud­ing The Straits Times, that piles of rub­bish can still be seen dot­ted around the is­land. The shut­down has put a great strain on both lo­cals and busi­nesses in Bo­ra­cay. Only those that did not rely purely on tourism stayed open, like hard­ware and con­struc­tion sup­pli­ers, banks and mar­kets. Some busi­nesses were closed by de­cree; oth­ers are now try­ing to re­build their cus­tom. No in­come for six months meant that the many res­i­dents work­ing in tourism be­came un­em­ployed or were forced to work in low-pay­ing jobs. Nenette Graf, owner and man­ager of re­sorts and wa­ter­sports schools in the area was one lo­cal able to keep her busi­nesses afloat. “We are proud to an­nounce that we are kit­ing and wind­surf­ing again,” she says. “But sadly, no [wa­ter­sports] school can op­er­ate a busi­ness be­cause all the cen­tres are in­side the 30-me­tre beach en­croach­ment [zone]. The gov­ern­ment is­sued no­tices of vi­o­la­tions and de­mo­li­tions. Aside from de­mol­ish­ing our build­ings, we also have to com­ply with te­dious re­quire­ments.” There is new pa­per­work to fill in, ex­pen­sive sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties for hospi­tal­ity es­tab­lish­ments with over 50 rooms to be con­structed, and a pol­lu­tion con­trol of­fi­cer to be em­ployed be­fore be­ing ac­cred­ited by the Depart­ment of Tourism. “I am hop­ing to open Green­yard [Inn] soon and more cen­tres will be back in busi­ness in De­cem­ber,” says Graf. Still, Graf and oth­ers are op­ti­mistic that the cleanup will help re­store Bo­ra­cay’s for­mer beauty. Pre­vi­ously, be­fore it be­came known as a party is­land, tourists went sim­ply to re­lax or en­joy wa­ter­sports like div­ing, para­sail­ing and kit­ing. Möven­pick Re­sort & Spa Bo­ra­cay told Ac­tion Asia there has been “high de­mand from guests”, while Graf ap­pre­ci­ates an­other new rule, keep­ing sail­boats off the beach dur­ing sun­set – “the re­sult of which is beau­ti­ful”, she says. – Mavis Au-ye­ung

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