Travel agencies, tour operators​ reaffirm​ support for Boracay clean up, rehabilitation​

The government’s rehabilitation plans on the cleanup of Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan, is supported by tourism stakeholders, namely, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA).

The Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) is putting its support behind the six-month rehabilitation of the so-called paradise island destination but now reeling from the weight of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s branding it a “cesspool.”

Duterte threatened to close the island because of the violation of environmental laws and regulations and pollution on the sea coming from tourist structures’ sewage and untreated water as many hotels/resorts discharge them to the sea. He did order it closed for six months.

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On Monday, April 9, the long-running “Tapatan sa Aristocrat” media forum hosted by veteran journalist Melo Acuña focused on two topics: “Araw ng Kagitingan — May Halaga Pa?” and “Boracay at Turismo — Saan Patutungo” (“Day of Valor — Is it Still Relevant?” and “Boracay and Tourism — Where To?”).

‘Tapatan sa Aristocrat’ host Melo Acuña (left) is joined by Manila Times columnist Mauro Gia Samonte; PHILTOA president Cesar R. Cruz; Tourism Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre; PTAA president Marlene Dado Jante; PTAA EVP Patria T. Chiong; and Dr. Rowena R. Hibanada of PNU. Photo by Edd K. Usman.

Present in the panel discussion included Department of Tourism (DOT) Assistant Secretary Frederick “Ricky” Alegre; PTAA president Marlene Dado Jante; PHILTOA president Cesar R. Cruz; PTAA executive vice president Patria T. Chiong; Dr. Rowena R. Hibanada, head, Center of Transformative Education, Philippine Normal University (PNU); and Mauro Gia Samonte, noted film director, columnist, The Manila Times.

While there is no more stopping the closure of the island from tourists starting on April 26, Alegre revealed it was not an easy decision, with the discussion dragging on for three hours.

He opened the possibility that it could even re-open “in 30 days, 60 days, or 100 days” if the collaboration the government can get is good.

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“(It’s) six months maximum,” the DOT official said.

What then is ailing the world-popular destination?

Alegre said the basic problems include discharge of pollution in the sea as the levels are too high; drainage and sewage lines that are decades-old and discharging pollutants towards the sea, among other violations.

He added that the government intends to recover all the nine wetlands on the island — presently only four are left — encroached by the construction of structures that are not supposed to be there.

“You are not supposed to construct on wetlands,” said Alegre, as he emphasized that some hotels and other structures violating environmental and other regulations have started their voluntary demolition.

On the other hand, he said, that unauthorized persons will not be allowed to land on the island during the closure period. “The military will help in crowd control.”

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For the PTAA, Jante said their association has over 20-member resorts in Boracay which have 3,000 individuals to be affected by the closure.

She welcomed plans of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to provide work for 5,000 persons. “Again, we need to see the specifics (of the plan).”

Chiong said they want to see the government plan for the island, how the government will go about implementing it.

Meanwhile, PHILTOA’s Cruz hoped the closure will be shorter than six months as it is already ‘big blow” but extending it will be a bigger blow to stakeholders.

Perhaps, only 30 days, he suggested.

He recalled that “Boracay started as a backpackers’ destination, globetrotters. They continued to arrive (until tour operators thought of doing something about the island as a tourist destination).

Duterte allocated P2-billion funds for Boracay’s affected population.

Cruz asked who will monitor the release of the money to make sure only those affected can get a share.

Alegre said Malay residents are first on the list of beneficiaries of the rehabilitation money.

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“Based on our data, a lot already live in Boracay. You have to prove you are a resident of Malay.” He added the government will have to vet the list of workers provided by hotels and resorts.

In relation with this, the DOT official said the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) “wants all foreigners (on the island) to get revalidation of their stay, worker or tourists.”

Aside from the DOT and DILG, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are the three agencies leading the government rehabilitation plans.

Alegre said the “sunset of Boracay is fine but behind are 8,000 (polluting structures. We need to collectively address this.”

On the topic of Araw ng Kagitingan, PNU’s Hibanada, columnist Samonte, and the PTAA and PHILTOA executives agreed that “Araw ng Kagitingan” is still important.

“We should have strengthened the study of our history; our studies are no longer going deeper. We need more research, not in the translation of foreign knowledge,” said Hibanada.

Jante and Cruz agreed to include historical tourism in their plans to help inculcate a deeper sense of history among Filipinos.

Samonte said, “it is important that Filipinos are enlightened that the way the Day of Bataan is being chronicled is wrong about America being benevolent.”

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The columnist said “the truth is that General Douglas MacArthur betrayed (Filipinos), the forces were 80,000. The surrender was planned.”

Samonte said he allowed the Philippines to lose in the war against the Japanese invaders before coming back, so Europe could first win in World War II.

EDD K. Usman

Presently, Edd Usman is a freelance journalist contributing as Stringer to Newsbytes.ph, Rappler.com, and Malaya Business Insight. From May 2016 to December 2017, he is a senior correspondent of Newsbytes.ph. He was also a Senior reporter at Manila Bulletin until April 15, 2016.

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