Boracay is everywhere

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

A few weeks ago, I was in a gathering of friends, one of whom owns a small hotel in Boracay. We asked him to tell us what was happening in Boracay, an insider’s appreciation, so to speak, and from a Filipino, we have known to have a keen sense of responsibility. His story was quite painful to hear and I had to ask him to write it down and share it with me. I just did not want to misinterpret his experience and sentiments. This is what he shared:

“Closing Boracay is an act of love. We need to protect and save this island treasure, not only for us but, for the generations to come.
Today, I have seen how the provincial government down to the barangay level failed in protecting the island. As a small business operator on the island, we were asked to complete all the requirements and pay all the necessary business, building and occupancy permits without exception. We were instructed to tap our sewer connection to Manila Water and pay the corresponding sewer fees on a monthly basis. All of these, we followed. We believe these are essential in keeping and safeguarding Boracay.

But, now, three (3) weeks from the closure date, I have heard, seen and learned that most of the players on the island do not really love Boracay. First, I learned on the news a barangay chairman reporting that they have a barangay resolution allowing business and hotel operators to tap their sewer line to the ground. The very same people tasked to protect the environment are doing the opposite.

Second, known, prestigious and successful businessmen of the island, even heads of Boracay organizations and associations admit that they constructed illegally on public easements, beachfront setbacks, and road easements and avoided tapping on the main sewer line due to connection fees and monthly assessments. Photos, videos, water sampling, and interviews made by the DENR Task Force should properly be documented to be used in filing the appropriate legal action against the violators. If one really loves Boracay, these moves should have been avoided or corrected at the very least.

Illegally constructed structures on the beachfront, especially, do not only destroy the view but drastically affect the sand through the pouring of concrete foundation which will not be removed even though the upper structures are gone.

Truth is by removing today the illegal structures and repairing the same by trying to salvage whatever is left is a futile exercise. For those hotel operators who will connect now, I hope, to the main sewer line after discovering your non-compliance, your costs to correct the mistake is even higher than the amount you tried to save in the first place. Let me remind those businessmen that your bottom line after the exercise is zero, at least, or even negative. You did not only incur losses but you have abused the island. You are the reason why we have this closure. Poor arithmetic, bad counseling, and negative PR for you. I hope you are levied with fines and penalties.

Now, after the closure, looking into the future, with no vision, no determination, and the same people, the same governance, and the same players will Boracay be rehabilitated or, at least, be protected? Will the violators be held accountable regardless of connections or stature? Will all the government officials involved in the past up to today be made to answer for the mess they have created?

Unfortunately, from our experience, all these efforts will end to nothing. When people from all levels both private and the government will try to remedy and fix the outcome of all the findings to their advantage. Boracay case is a concrete example of how our country is today. From its original, as a beautiful, pristine and rich island turning into a wasteland due to corruption, greed, and indifference.
Whatever gains we can achieve after the closure, should be safeguarded to ensure the gains in the long run. I ask everyone to sacrifice, to give our share in really showing our love for Boracay. Do we really love Boracay, or, our money?”

This sharing is not new and many others, too, have mentioned this situation. In fact, Boracay has become a glaring example of a national pattern that differs only in degree. Some resorts have become blemishes, not bright spots. They showcase the worst of us, the greed, the stupidity and the utter disregard for the environment. It is as though we do not have any rules and regulations grounded in preserving what is beautiful in the Philippines. It is also showing what our level of cleanliness is as individuals and communities.”

Greed and stupidity. Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs is a stark example of greed and stupidity in tandem. Is it possible to ever have greed without stupidity? Maybe, that is one reason why government steps in to regulate even though the private sector is supposed to be more efficient. The Boracay experience, and the numerous other experiences of the same nature and form, however, show that government can keep the private sector honest, and vice-versa, but it rarely happens that way. Both often go the same path together, the path of greed and stupidity.

With the drastic decision to close Boracay for six months or more, the repercussions are many and harsh. Yet, one civic-minded hotel owner calls it an act of love. And he keeps praying that those who butchered both the law and beautiful nature will be severely penalized or jailed. I agree with him. Loving our country means loving our land and all that is beautiful about it – whether this is our beaches or our culture. Definitely, our love for our country pales miserably in comparison to our love for money.

The ongoing Boracay saga is one more chance, albeit a very slim one, for love of country to defeat love of money. I hope we will not waste it.

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