By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Two months since the closure of the Boracay Island, government agencies still find their hands full of to-do’s to clean up and resolve the issues of the world-famous tourist spot.
This was found during the Senate inquiry Wednesday on the status of the rehabilitation of Boracay which was ordered closed to tourists and non-residents last April 26 due to environmental woes.
The government had committed to open the island on October 26, given its six-month rehabilitation period.
At the hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, senators learned that the government has yet to delineate the service areas of the two water concessionaires in the island, a reason Senator Cynthia Villar blamed for the poor wastewater management in the area.
Officials cited a conflict over which authority should divide Boracay between the Boracay Island Water Inc. and Boracay 2B.
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Operations Epimaco Densing said they asked the Office of the President to decide which of Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), or the National Water Resources Board under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has authority over it.
Also, majority of the establishments in the island, still, have not connected to sewage system of the service providers despite repeated notices from local officials.
Villar said this should be prioritized as this will define the implementation of the Waste Water Act, which was found to be violated by several establishments that throw their waste water directly into the sea.
Apart from this, the DENR also admitted that erring businesses have yet to be penalized and demolished.
DENR Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo Jr. said the cases are still pending before the Pollution Adjudication Board. He assured Villar to have the disposition on the cases finished “in one month.”
Adobo also reported Wednesday that only 10 of the 885 establishments built in protected forestlands and over wetlands were demolished since the island was shut down.
Despite the unresolved issues, the agencies committed to complete their tasks within the six-month period.
Asked by Sen. Franklin Drilon, Densing said they are looking to have the “soft opening” of Boracay Island on the first week of September.
Densing said they will re-open Boracay if certain conditions are met, which include the dismantling of the establishments that violated easement limits; reclamation of the wetlands; that 70 percent of road and drainage systems be in place; and “zero garbage” in the island’s landfill.
Drilon said he trusts that the agencies will stay true to their word to finish their tasks.
“I assume they can do it and we will monitor their compliance with this commitment. It is their own deadline. We look forward to opening Boracay so that ang ating mga manggagawa na naghihirap dahil sa pagsasara ng kanilang pinagtatrabahuhan ay mabigyang muli ng hanapbuhay (the workers affected by the closure will be able to get their jobs back),” he told reporters following the hearing.
“The reforms that are being instituted, certainly, will not be finished by that time but at least, the minimum requirements that meet environmental standards will be in place,” he added.
Villar, for her part, decided to hold hearings on the Boracay rehabilitation monthly to ensure that the agencies comply with their deadline.
“I am crossing my fingers that they will succeed,” Villar said.