Experts were in agreement that the environmental degradation of the Boracay Island has been a long-standing problem exacerbated by the anarchic entry of its tourist establishments, and that transparency was needed in the ongoing rehabilitation of Boracay as well as other tourist spots in the country. In a public forum entitled, “Whitewashing the White Sands of Boracay” organized by AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People together with Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment in partnership with the University of the Philippines Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology, Filipino scientists and experts shared their technical opinion on the government’s rehabilitation plan and its announcement that the island will be subject to agrarian reform.
Dr. Laura David, a physical oceanographer and professor from the UP Marine Science Institute raised concerns on the potential impacts of the government’s plan to convert 845 hectares of the island for agriculture. She explained that converting existing forests and wetlands with the dominantly practiced monocrop planting system would only aggravate the critical condition of a small island ecosystem such as Boracay. With the island’s rapid coastal erosion exacerbated by the loss of beach forest species and boom in tourist establishments, monocrop farming will lead to heavy siltation on the coasts and kill native seagrasses and macroalgae which are the sources of the island’s world-famous white sands. Another issue raised would be the added pressure on groundwater extraction for agricultural purposes.
“The plan to convert the island is contentious”, said Dr. Kristian Saguin, a geographer and professor from the UP Diliman, Department of Geography. According to Dr. Saguin, the administration’s pronouncements on Boracay rehabilitation is rife with contradictions. For instance, subjecting the island to agrarian reform will affect the ancestral domain of the Ati, the indigenous people in the island whom the government purports to help with the program. He also pointed out that the system of private ownership of land under the government’s land reform program inconsistent with the communal way of living of the Atis. He urged that if the government is serious in helping the island’s Atis, it should instead strengthen the Ati’s claim to their ancestral land. He also reiterated the need to empower the people and for transparency over what the government plans for the island.
Ms. Lia Alonzo of the Center for Environmental Concerns shared the results of the Fact Finding Mission held 40 days after the closure of Boracay. Their findings revealed that the closure led to the displacement of 36,000 workers, aside from 46,829 residents who relied on tourism for a living. Ms. Alonzo and her team noted that the island appeared to be in a de facto Martial Law status, with 630 policemen deployed to complement the four-hundred seventy-two (472) policemen stationed in the island prior to the closure.
Members of the fisherfolks were also present in the event. Nanay Nieves of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakay ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) clarified that the fisherfolks are not against rehabilitating Boracay, but they should be consulted as stakeholders in the island. She called on the accountability from private resort owners, the local as well as the national government responsible for the rampant environmental violations in the island. She reiterated that the government should not punish all the people in the island for the sins of the few.
AGHAM Secretary General Feny Cosico pointed out that the rehabilitation plan must be made public and be consulted with all stakeholders – the local workers, resort owners, fisherfolks as well as scientists. Two months after the rehabilitation, the public remain blind to what is happening on the ground. She added that President Duterte’s declaration that Boracay Island will be subject to agrarian reform does not bode well for the people of Boracay. If the land will be declared alienable and disposable, it will pave the way for the entry of the big foreign firms, such as Chinese casino operators. This is a threat not only to the livelihood of the locals but also to public safety as environmental risks such as erosion will intensify. AGHAM demanded that the government conduct a thorough assessment of the Boracay Island and identify appropriate mitigating measures to address the degrading state of the island. The organization also urged the government to include local communities in the planning and implementation of the rehabilitation activities as they are stewards of the natural resources of Boracay. They should play a key role in defining the needs of the Boracay Island in bringing back its ecological integrity. #