Boracay Island
Photo: The Independent

Boracay will soon be opened and that indeed sounds encouraging. There were directives issued and those which can easily be accomplished have been done. How much of what was supposed to be achieved to this day begs some answers.

Labor Secretary Bebot Bello provided adequate assistance to those displaced by the sudden closure of the country’s prime tourist destination, and time and again Secretary Bong Go would bring sunshine to those who need more help. He had done this despite some desperate critics demonizing his deed. Putting Boracay back to its glory days is, therefore, imperative.

Among those who suffered from the sudden closure is a certain Cris Aquino who, in the first piece I wrote about the Boracay shutdown, had been following my subsequent stories. But his case was something different. I learned later that he owns West Cove, which was perceived to be a property of boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, that Ted Failon brought to the national consciousness as the worst violator of local and national laws and regulations. Cris Aquino sought me out through a friend, and I listened to his plight.

Aquino (he stressed he is not related to the famous family) said that he obtained from the government a Forest Land Use Agreement for Tourism and then built that imposing West Cove which became an icon in many tourism brochures that enticed tourists to Boracay. He invested over a hundred million pesos to put up the resort hotel. The establishment was demolished overnight with nary an ejectment notice served. Later a portion of the building was set on fire by arsonists.

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The fault of Aquino was that he proceeded to construct even as the local government refused to issue him permit. But, according to him, he dutifully paid all government dues. He revealed that of the thousands of establishments that sprouted in Boracay, only about 100 had permits, all others have none. He said discounting the local government permit, he is the most compliant. He said he has written Malacanang to reconsider his case.

When an order to self-demolish buildings that violated the 25 +5 rule, he proceeded to do away with the viewing platform. Moreover, the demolition team from the local government swooped on West Cove at the time when he was away and demolished the delicate structures of the main building then set on fire a number of rooms.

Aquino bared more. According to him, some characters sold forest lands to foreigners with only Tax Declaration to show. The aliens, in turn, sold the land to their compatriots who constructed luxury villas in forest lands and reclaimed wetlands. A famous family from Manila was able to obtain a title to a 12-hectare “alienable-disposable” land which is 90 percent forest land. They are still there, standing and was not even a subject of investigation.

As West Cove was burning, none of the buildings which were similarly situated as his were not touched. Aquino said he is in accord with President Duterte’s directive to totally rehabilitate Boracay and he will not raise any howl of protest for as long as every building that violates the law will be torn down. He also bared that the road-widening done by DPWH was only three meters each side when it should have been six meters. What they did was follow the local government edict which, he said, was passed precisely to limit the width of the road and to allow illegal structures in both sides of the road.

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What sanctions were slapped on the big-time violators of environmental laws who throw wastes in the erstwhile pristine Boracay shorelines? Both DENR and DILG looked the other way while the Department of Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority sets aside P300 million for a sewerage project which should actually be done by the water concessionaires in Boracay. For a small islet, there are two water utilities – Boracay Island Water Company owned by Ayala and Boracay Tubig originally owned by a James Molina who later sold the outfit to Lucio Tan, Aquino said. Both sell water for P130 per cubic meter! For now, establishments pay P2,360 per cubic meter of human waste as dislodging fee and “we do not know where they are throwing it,” Aquino said.

It looks like for now, the shorelines have been cleared of debris and because business and human activity had stopped, the sands in the island start to sparkle again.

In the meantime, we still want to hear who among the local officials are to be held accountable for commercializing the wet lands, the road and shoreline easements. The last time we heard from Undersecretary Epimaco Densing, he gave us the number of people to be charged but never came out with names. And what about the billions collected from entrance and exit fees? Whose pocket did these go? The flooded street in this 1,000-hectare islet is nature’s proof, thanks to Typhoon Henry, that all is not well as yet in Boracay.

Boracay is set to reopen this late October but only the beachfront is clear. The institutionalized corruption that destroyed this prime tourist destination in the country is very much in place. It is not farfetched, therefore, that again we will see the specter of yet another cesspool past October.