THE crisis and crackdown of “pollutive” resorts in Boracay is but a symptom of the runaway commercialization and persistent state negligence of our country’s coastal areas. Past and present governments allowed our pristine marine ecosystems and beautiful coastal landscapes to be privatized by big businesses.
The small fisherfolk as well as indigenous people such as the Ati of Boracay and Mangyan of Puerto Galera were the original inhabitants of these beautiful coasts. They were the frontline stewards of our abundant marine resources such as coral reefs, mangroves, white beaches, and geological formations when they were displaced by the land grabbing by tourism corporations and the stewardship of these pristine areas was given to the big corporations.
The government left its responsibility to manage public facilities like sewage and garbage disposal systems to commercial institutions. We also see that the mushrooming of big commercial establishments have resulted to depletion of water resources for local residents. These establishments also conveniently ignored sewage regulations in their hurry to cash in on tourists. Only after years of damage already done did the government bother to chase after these violators.
The Duterte administration should go beyond band-aid solutions. It must impose moratorium over the building of new tourist business establishments along our coastal areas until such time that the government has already made a set of good policies and put a program in place to manage and conserve coastal resources and sites. They must craft a tourism program where our coastal areas will primarily owned and run by the local communities and local governments themselves.
Investigation of environmental violations at other famous beach sites such as El Nido, Panglao, Coron, and Puerto Galera should indeed be pursued. Establishments that do not comply with environmental regulations should be immediately closed down. Owners of long-time polluting establishments should be slapped with heavy fines and should no longer be eligible for business permits.
An ecosystem-based approach should be taken to let the Boracay, Puerto Galera, and other degraded beaches recuperate. A limit on the number of tourists that can visit the island for a specific period of time should be imposed. A moratorium on new construction projects and issuance of business permits should also be put in place in these areas.
It will be lifted until these areas have been fully rehabilitated and ecologically recovered. Local Aeta, Mangyan, and fisherfolks who were displaced by the tourism projects should be brought back to serve as the stewards in the area.
Thus if the government ecotourism policy is oriented towards commodifying our natural resources and landscapes, these violations and environmental degradation will only get repeated in our coastal areas and beautiful islands.. We have learned these lessons painfully in Boracay and Puerto Galera.--Leon Dulce, national coordinator, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment