Saving our slice of paradise

Francisco Ed. Lim

Early this month, President Duterte laid down the law, so to speak, and threatened to shut down the entire island of top tourist destination Boracay for its continued environmental problems.

Of the 7,107 islands that constitute the Philippine archipelago, Boracay sets itself apart with its crystalline waters and powder-like white sand beaches. Ranked as one of the top three islands in the world, Boracay is known both locally and internationally as a premier tourist destination. Last year, Boracay reportedly drew over two million tourists to its shores.
To accommodate its ever-growing tourist population, Boracay has adapted itself into a small self-sustaining metropolis. Through the years, this small island has spawned numerous five-star hotels and resorts, restaurants, bars and retail establishments. This overzealous development, however, may spell the island’s downfall.

The paradise island has been besieged by unending environmental problems. My family and I have made it a point to celebrate New Year with friends on the island for the past five years or so. The island’s sewerage problem has become noticeable. Fortunately for island lovers like us, the problem has caught the attention (and ire) of no less than the Chief Executive himself. According to the Department of Tourism, structures have been built too close to the island’s coastline and local establishments have not only failed to connect to the island’s central sewage system, but are directly draining their sewage waste into the sea.

To address this problem, the President has pronounced a radical resolution: Shut down the entire island unless it literally cleans up its act. At a business forum in Davao, President Duterte did not mince words in describing the ecological problem in Boracay, admonishing its local government and community for its neglect and failure to address this perennial problem. He has given Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu six months to clean up Boracay, lest he push through with his radical solution.

As a tourism-driven economy, the threat of shutting down Boracay and barring access to it by tourists poses a serious blow not only to Aklan, but the country at large as well. But at the same time, at what cost are we willing to sacrifice our natural resources for the sake of economy?

Perhaps a more business-friendly and more legally defensible alternative is to give, by way of ultimatum, local establishments a grace period within which to comply with municipal and national environmental laws. After such deadline, noncompliant establishments will be shut down and barred from doing business on the island. While this may mean that establishments must temporarily halt operations, the slight interruption will benefit the community in the long term. Rather than risk permanent cessation for the whole paradise island, a few weeks or months of lost income for these establishments is a small price to pay. Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

The road to rehabilitating Boracay necessarily requires the fullest cooperation among national and local government, as well as local businesses and residents of Boracay, to restore it to its former pristine glory. A strong presidential action is needed, lest we stand the risk of having our slice of paradise lost forever.

That is where the President is coming from.

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