By Dr. Jaime C. Laya
Political will is what President Duterte demonstrated when he ordered Boracay cleaned up in six months or else. Famous for its unparalleled powder-like white beaches, untreated sewage generated by two million annual visitors have fouled the island’s waters, now cesspool smelly and unsightly with green algae.
As expected, some blame government. This is partly true—the drainage system is incomplete and the authorities have allowed construction or at least tolerated, on easements, on offshore rocks and on former wetlands. The beach and roads narrow by the day. On the other hand, about 40 percent of business establishments have yet to install their own waste water treatment facilities or connect to Boracay Island Water Company, Inc. and its sewage treatment plant. About 75 percent of the island’s households, too, discharge septic tanks to canals.
It seems that local authorities have suspended construction effective June 1 (meaning 60 more days of business as usual), but Secretaries Eduardo Año, Wanda Teo, and Roy Cimatu are attending to the President’s order and hopefully we can all soon safely jump into White Beach’s water.
In varying degrees the situation is the same at established destinations like Mindoro’s Puerto Galera and Batangas’ Matabungkáy. Learning from Boracay’s pound-heavy lessons, it’s time to take an ounce of prevention and prevent emerging destinations like Pangláo Island in Bohól, Palawan’s Corón and El Nido from requiring heavier cure. It’s easier to conserve than to restore and recover the natural wonders that make places worth visiting.
My family spent a few days in El Nido, a wonderful place but the town is strictly Third World and environment seems taken for granted. There is an El Nido-Taytáy Managed Resource Protected Area covering 903-plus square kilometers of land and sea. Unfortunately funding is low and enforcement, poor. Boat anchors and uncaring visitors stepping on hard coral destroy reefs. No sight for sore eyes are structures coming up in forested hillsides, smoking barbecue pits on tourist boats, and floating sari-sari stores by beautiful lagoons.
A bright spot is an Ayala Land project, the 325-hectare Lio Tourism Estate near El Nido town. Already there are visitor accommodations along its four-kilometer beachfront; an artists’ community meant as visual and performing arts center and showcase for traditional crafts. A commercial center and residential communities are in the works. Close to half of the area is to remain forest, mangrove, wetlands, and waterways.
Within the development is the charming airport terminal where coincidentally I saw JAZA in line, pushing the family’s luggage at the Air Swift check-in counter. On arrival in Manila, passengers had to board a bus to get to the Terminal building. They were among the last off the plane and all the bus seats were taken. JAZA’s parents sat on the trundle seats that no one else wanted, while JAZA and Lizzie stood holding on to overhead straps.
I had no checked-in luggage and so left the big bosses of Ayala Land and Air Swift waiting at the luggage carousel. Lio Tourism Estate is bound to succeed.
Note: In case anyone wonders, JAZA is Jaime Augusto Zóbel de Ayala, the Chairman and CEO of Ayala Corporation, among whose subsidiaries are Ayala Land, Inc., Lio Tourism Estate and Air Swift. Doña Beatriz and Don Jaime Zóbel de Ayala, the family patriarchs, are JAZA’s parents and Lizzie is Mrs. JAZA.
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