On 25 August 2017, former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was said to have been fined P500 for smoking in public in Boracay and throwing cigarette butts on the beach. He was reportedly caught by a certain PO2 Manuel Siason who asked him to pick up the trash and pay the fine.
Fake news. It was a post from a satirical website that unsuspecting netizens shared and so the story gained a semblance of credibility.
Ironically, that fake news captured the essence of the Aquino administration’s culpability for the abuse and deterioration of Boracay — the country’s crown jewel of tourism attractions — to become the abhorrent “cesspool” as President Rodrigo Duterte called it in February this year.
It forced the hand of Duterte to come into the unprecedented, drastic but necessary decision to close Boracay for six months to pave the way for the rehabilitation of the island-paradise by removing illegal waste disposal by structures that dumped pollutants into the once crystal-clear waters.
Likewise, the order was meant to bring sanity to the administration of the island and restore the delicate balance between the importance of tourism-related revenues that Boracay brings and the imperative of protecting its ecology to ensure sustainability.
Duterte made the decision despite warnings the country would lose P1.68 billion as a result of Boracay’s closure.
Last Friday’s reopening of Boracay, which showcased the revival of the paradise-island, vindicated the wisdom behind Duterte’s exercise of iron political will.
Had Noynoy only done his job, it would not have been necessary to shut down Boracay. That he was fully aware of the impending ecological disaster that is Boracay was evidenced by his Memorandum Circular 47, issued 17 May 2013.
Under the circular, Noynoy directed all concerned government agencies to “review the environmental, commercial, tourism and law and order situation” in Boracay, as well as in Baguio, to prepare comprehensive plans to preserve these vital national assets.
Unfortunately, nothing really concrete came out of Noynoy’s circular as the environmental degradation and the mushrooming of illegal structures in Boracay continued unabated. It was practically a mere lip-service for the environmental protection of the country’s principal tourist draw.
However, Noynoy’s more glaring shortcoming with respect to Boracay was his failure to implement the Supreme Court’s decision on Proclamation 1064 of his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The proclamation classified Boracay Island into four hundred hectares of reserved forest land and 628 and 96/100 hectares of agricultural land (alienable and disposable). It also provided a 15-meter buffer zone on each side of the centerline of roads and trails, reserved for right-of-way and which shall form part of the area reserved for forestland protection purposes.
Naturally, the proclamation was challenged before the Supreme Court (SC) by businessmen and those claiming ownership of huge tracts of land in Boracay.
In October 2008 SC upheld Arroyo’s move to save the island, declaring all of Boracay was state property and all the ownership claims of individuals and companies on the island were invalid.
The High Court said it is aware that billions of pesos have been invested by private individuals for the development of Boracay into a prime tourist destination and that many other people have long considered the island their home.
“While the Court commiserates with private claimants plight, we are bound to apply the law strictly and judiciously. This is the law and it should prevail,” the SC said.
The fact business sector continued to pour investments into Boracay that further quickened the pace of deterioration of the environment of the island is an indictment that Noynoy’s administration and the political elite in Panay island largely ignored the SC’s decision on Arroyo’s proclamation.
It is possible that Noynoy refused to implement Arroyo’s proclamation because such move would be inconsistent with his administration’s campaign of portraying his predecessor as a villain to buttress his self-righteous mantra of “Tuwid na Daan” (Straight Path).
Whatever Noynoy’s reasons are, Boracay’s ecological disaster is another major fail of his administration in the same league as the Luneta Hostage crisis, the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the Mamasapano Massacre, just to name a few.
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