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(SALUTATIONS)

A YEAR AGO, BORACAY ISLAND WAS DECLARED CLOSED FOR 6 MONTHS TO BOTH LOCAL AND GLOBAL TOURISM, TO GIVE THE BORACAY INTER-AGENCY TASK FORCE UNINTERRUPTED TIME TO UNDERTAKE THE ISLAND’S ENVIRONMENTAL REHABILITATION AND REVERSE ITS DEGRADATION, AS TASKED BY OUR PRESIDENT RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE’S EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 53.

LET ME BACKTRACK A BIT, TO 4 DECADES BACK. IN 1978, BORACAY ISLAND, WHICH WAS ALREADY HAILED AS THE BEST BEACH IN THE WORLD,WAS DECLARED A TOURIST ZONE UNDER THE ADMINISTRATION AND CONTROL OF THE PHILIPPINE TOURISM AUTHORITY. IN THE ENSUING RAPID TRANSFORMATION, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WAS REPEATEDLY INVOKED, BUT INADEQUATELY PRACTICED.

AT LEAST A DECADE BEFORE PRESIDENT DUTERTE DESCRIBED BORACAY IN EARLY 2018 AS HAVING DEGENERATED INTO A “CESSPOOL,” THE DENR HAD ALREADY BEEN WARNING ABOUT RISING COLIFORM LEVELS IN THE ISLAND’S SWIMMING BEACHES. DESPITE OUR WARNINGS, TOURISM CONTINUED TO BOOM. IN 2016, TOURIST ARRIVALS IN BORACAY WERE OVER 1.7 MILLION, AND IN 2017, TOURISTS EXCEEDED THE TWO MILLION MARK. BUT THESE NUMBERS, AND THE PURSUIT OF REVENUES THAT THEY REPRESENTED, WERE TAKING THEIR TOLL, ON THE ENVIRONMENT.

IN FEBRUARY 2018, AFTER PRESIDENT DUTERTE DESCRIBED BORACAY AS A “CESSPOOL,” WE FOUND 51 BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENTS OPERATING WITHOUT WASTEWATER TREATMENT FACILITIES: THEY WERE DUMPING SEWAGE INTO THE SEA THROUGH CANALS OR UNDERGROUND PIPES. THEY WERE PROMPTLY SERVED NOTICES OF VIOLATIONS OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT, AND WERE GIVEN 2 MONTHS TO CONNECT TO EXISTING SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS OR TO INSTALL THEIR OWN WASTEWATER TREATMENT FACILITIES, FAILING WHICH THEY FACED CLOSURE. WE ALSO FOUND OUT THAT THE COMBINED CAPACITY OF THE ISLAND’S 2 SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS, AT 12 MILLION LITERS PER DAY, WAS NOT ENOUGH TO COPE WITH THE 18.23 MILLION LITERS OF WASTEWATER BEING GENERATED DAILY.

THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT INSPECTED 2,269 ESTABLISHMENTS IN BORACAY, BUT ONLY 95 OF THEM WERE DETERMINED TO BE COMPLIANT WITH STANDARDS IN FIRE, BUILDING AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY. AND IN THE RUSH TO DEVELOP, 5 OUT OF THE 9 WETLANDS IN THE ISLAND WERE EFFECTIVELY WIPED OUT.

IN THE FACE OF THESE AND OTHER FINDINGS, WE CAN ONLY CONCLUDE THAT MOST OF THE PREVIOUS DECADES’ INVOCATIONS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WERE MERELY TOKEN, IF NOT PURELY SYMBOLIC, NODS TO SUSTAINABILITY.

SO BORACAY ISLAND HAD TO BE CLOSED TO GLOBAL TOURISM FOR 6 MONTHS, FROM APRIL TO OCTOBER 2018, WHILE WE WORKED TO REPAIR ITS DEGRADED ENVIRONMENT AND DAMAGED ECOSYSTEMS.

ON OCTOBER 26, 2018, THE ISLAND WAS REOPENED TO TOURISM. BORACAY TODAY IS BACK IN BUSINESS, BUT IT IS NOT ANYMORE THE LIGHTLY REGULATED BUSINESS-AS-USUAL OF THE PRE-SHUTDOWN ERA. THE SWIMMING BEACHES ARE CLEAN, AND WE AIM TO KEEP THEM THAT WAY, BY REGULATING THE TRAFFIC OF TOURISTS TO KEEP NUMBERS WITHIN THE ISLAND’S CARRYING CAPACITY.

BY FEBRUARY 2019, THE BORACAY COAST WAS CLEAN ENOUGH FOR US TO BE ABLE TO RELEASE 142 HATCHLINGS OF A THREATENED SPECIES OF MARINE TURTLES, THE OLIVE RIDLEY.

ALTHOUGH WE HAVE REOPENED BORACAY TO GLOBAL TOURISM, THE REHABILITATION OF BORACAY IS NOT YET COMPLETE AND REMAINS A WORK IN PROGRESS. WHAT WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THUS FAR HAS EARNED COMMENDATIONS, BUT BUILDING SUSTAINABILITY REQUIRES TIME AS WELL AS THE CONTINUING SUPPORT OF THE PEOPLE OF BORACAY.

THIS IS WHY WE ARE PLEASED TO NOTE THAT IN THIS WEEKLONG CELEBRATION OF THE REOPENING AND REHABILITATION OF BORACAY, THE EMPHASIS IS ON SUSTAINABILITY, AS WELL AS ON COMPLIANCE WITH ALL LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS, INCLUDING ORDINANCES, ON SUSTAINABLE TOURISM. THIS CELEBRATION CONSISTS OF MANY LOW-KEY EVENTS, DISPERSED ACROSS VARIOUS LOCATIONS AND DATES. THIS IS A GOOD APPROACH.

ON THIS NOTE, I CONGRATULATE THE ORGANIZERS AND PARTICIPANTS OF THIS WEEK-LONG CELEBRATION, AND INVITE THEM TO CONTINUE INVESTING IN SUSTAINABLE ECOTOURISM, FOR THERE IS NO BETTER ALTERNATIVE. LOVE BORACAY, LOVE SUSTAINABILITY!

MABUHAY PO TAYONG LAHAT, AT MARAMING SALAMAT!