Wednesday August 22, 2018

Editorial: Restoring the 'cesspool'

From world-class to test-case.

As the six-month closure of Boracay approaches with the enforcement of the government order on April 26, the world watches to see how the government handles the process to allow the natural resources of the “resort island” to recover without economically displacing a community dependent on tourism revenues to the point of no return.

Boracay’s rehabilitation is of particular interest to Cebu and Bohol.
It is not only because these “alternatives” will absorb the tourists rerouted from Boracay during the closure.

In a recent study, the Environmental Management Bureau of Central Visayas found that fecal coliform in the seawater taken from these top tourist destinations exceeds the levels set as safe for swimming. Thus, the health of those swimming or engaging in water sports off Mactan Island in Cebu and Panglao Island in Bohol is also at risk.

Poor implementation or noncompliance of wastewater treatment and sewage disposal are again cited as factors causing the seawater contamination in Cebu and Bohol, as well as in El Nido, Palawan and Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro.

The “crackdown” on establishments violating sanitation and environmental laws is essential and overdue.

Yet, the government is also responsible for the strict enforcement of the laws on shoreline easement, forestland encroachment, and intrusion in wetlands.

In the blooming of coliform contamination ailing resort islands—which spurred President Rodrigo Duterte to call Boracay a “cesspool”—mandated agencies, particularly the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Tourism, as well as local government units should be as critical in reviewing their performance and implementation of the law.

The government asks the private sector and civil society to share the stake in development. Yet, these sectors have a basis for hazarding that, in its inefficiency, corruption or non-performance, the government is also a big part of the problem.

For while the President’s “abrupt” and “dramatic” decision to close down Boracay is said to be in keeping with his trademark style of governance, according to Rappler’s April 12 report by Pia Ranada, the delay in the release of detailed plans and guidelines steering the rehabilitation added to the anxieties of residents, workers, business owners, and other members of the Boracay community.

When the guidelines finally came out last April 12—slightly more than two months after the President first declared during a Feb. 9 speech in Davao City that he would “close” the island for becoming a “cesspool”—the “raw” list of regulations drafted by the Department of Interior and Local Government set off again turbulent reactions.

The most serious seems to be the real fear felt by many Boracay residents that “semi martial law” will be imposed during the closure, reported on April 9.

Aside from restrictions on swimming and mobility within the island and the need to secure authorization letters and identification cards, the reinforcement of the police and the military stationed in the island is troubling and threatening for the locals.

Others are more oppressed by the uncertainty caused by lack of livelihood or the cessation of business earnings while needs continue, expenses mount, and bank loans acquire interest.

Contingency plans for Boracay’s displaced workers have not yet been finalized by agencies under the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Western Visayas.

For development to work, the people bearing the brunt of its effects must not just be “targeted” for improvement but involved from the very start, especially in planning and implementing.

Any action initiated without the people’s support is doomed to fail.