THE one and only time I was able to set foot in Boracay was when I was a reporter for The Freeman in the mid-’90s. I of course didn’t pay for the travel because I was with a group of media people from Cebu invited by the island’s organization of resorts that wanted to clear the air about reports of coliform bacteria contamination of the surrounding seas. Those were obviously times when Boracay was still to take off as country’s premier tourist destination.
I liked what I saw. The white beaches that one could enjoy unhindered unlike many Cebu resorts at that time. The seeming self-sufficiency of an area far from, say Kalibo, the provincial center of Aklan where the island belongs. My only misgiving was that with the limited time spent there, I wasn’t able to visit the non-tourism sites where the local communities were located.
Boracay reminded me of San Francisco, the town in one of the islands of Camotes that is currently becoming a favorite tourist destination because of its white beaches, primarily in Barangay Santiago. Resorts in the said island are still few but even now the thriving communities in the area are being overlooked in promotional campaigns. It’s actually worse in Boracay because the local communities are not only being overlooked their existence are fully forgotten.
But that’s another story. I am reminded of that Boracay trip of old mainly because of the contrast. The Boracay we saw in the mid-90s was virginal, although already precocious. Tourists came but not in droves like what is happening now, and that was precisely why the resorts there at that time were willing to spend money just to protect the island’s image. Now, it looks like there is not much of a reaction when President Duterte described Boracay’s seas as a “cesspool.”
The president’s statement was actually worse. In a speech in Davao City last week, he even threatened to close Boracay. “There will be a time that no more foreigner will go there...because when he gets back to the plane he will be full of shit going back and forth to the restroom,” he said.
I don’t know if negative exaggeration is good for tourism. But the president did exaggerate the extent of the environmental problem in Boracay, and the ever “cool” Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu refused to clarify the issue. While some resorts did violate environmental rules, the waters surrounding the island can’t be considered a “cesspool,” that is if results of recent water samplings are to be believed.
The annual water sampling by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Western Visayas, for example, showed that so-called “bathing areas” in Boracay are safe for swimming and watersports. The acceptable fecal coliform concentration for areas categorized for swimming is 100 most probable number or MPN per 100 milliliters. But the annual range of the coliform concentration there is a minimum of 2 MPN/100 ml to a maximum concentration of 71 MPN/100 ml.
No, I am not saying that government should not straighten the environmental situation in Boracay. Let’s just not exaggerate and pummel the image of our top tourist destination to smithereens.