By Deedee M. Siytangco
The big threat to our environment is the belief that someone else will save it. – Robert Swan
Tourism Sec. Wanda Teo won us over to her causes in her initial appearance in our Bulong Puungan sa Sofitel.
She was candid and charmingly confident now, unlike the first few times she faced media. “I was new and had very little to say then,” she admitted, but now that she has been on the job for a year and a half, “I have achieved some goals I can be proud of.”
Like successfully staging the Ms. Universe pageant four months into the job, upping the tourism arrivals, managing her people, moving them where they would perform better, connecting with her counterparts from all over the world, and now working hard on the Boracay problem
Initially, Sec. Wanda faced skeptics, mostly about her qualifications for the post. The buzz was that she got the post because she was a sister of the Tulfo brothers; she is from Davao and knows President Duterte; she was “just the owner of a travel agency” etcetera, etcetera, she recounted with a straight face.
Except that Wanda has been in the tourism business for over 20 years, and she brought with her the tenacity to do a good job. She put aside her shyness and boldly made her mission known in her many travels to tourism fairs and conventions abroad, acting like, she admitted, a “saleswoman from my beautiful country” than the big boss of the department. “I talked to anyone, tour operators, travel ministers, anyone! Being a woman helped open doors! I convinced them to come to our beautiful country!”
The result of that drive is that we have had a record number of inbound tourists. Then the Boracay sanitation mess unfortunately burst into the national consciousness and Wanda found herself in the spotlight of negative public opinion. Hold it, she said, things to consider with Boracay: Tourism has no direct control on the management of the world’s most beautiful beach island—the local government unit more or less runs it the way they want and they collect the R75 fee charged to every visitor. The blame is placed on the Department of Tourism (DOT), she lamented. But without backing away from the mess, Wanda stressed that the sanitation problem had been happening for a long time. She says, “I was still in the private sector, the sanitation department was already a shameful problem. The over-building on the beach, the occupation of the wetlands, they were already there.” Now the President put his foot down and these are the things going to happen. The inter-agency (DOT, DENR, and DILG) task force has recommended full closure for a year. But Wanda will be recommending to President Duterte full closure for only two months. She understands the concern of stakeholders. In fact she is meeting them so they can understand the national government’s moves, like declaring a state of calamity in Boracay. This may seem too drastic but Wanda explained that in a state of calamity, improvements, demolitions, and other things to do can proceed with any fear of TROs from dissenters.
At present, resident and owners of establishments in the island are cooperative, like Region IV director Helen Catalbas. Sec. Wanda hopefully can convince the President that the island be closed own for only two months. Sec. Cimatu and Ano are for a longer period of time. With the close down, the clean water supply will also be shut down, Wanda pointed out. Flights will still land in Caticlan, or diverted to other islands.
President Duterte has announced April 26 as the date of closure for Boracay. This should give stakeholders the time to make arrangement for cancelled groups, their workers, etc. Hopefully the clean-up be done thoroughly and efficiently for a spanking new Boracay in the near future. We go with Sec. Wanda appeal of only two months closure.
The sanitation problem will be easily solved with everybody’s cooperation, Sec. Wanda said. It is for everybody’s benefit and Boracay will still be No. 1. The DOT is now working in packaging and promoting other beautiful tourism spots. Her team is also putting together tourist packages like Faith tours of different beautiful old churches and shrines in the country, culinary tours of the best eateries, and so on.
DOT by the way has the smallest budget. Figure that one out! We wish Sec. Wanda and her team all the best, and any of the LGU officials responsible for the money collected from every visitors on the islands be held accountable!
There is also a consensus and a recommendation to the President for a Boracay Management Committee like that of Clark and Subic. This is a good and should include stakeholders.