Solons worried Boracay work may not meet deadline

By Ellson Quismorio

Congressmen have expressed concerns that the world-famous Boracay might not be able to reopen on October 26 as promised by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Locals stroll and enjoy the white beach of Boracay Island in this photo taken April 27, the day after the resort island was closed off to tourists for six months. Department of Tourism (DOT) maintained that economic activities are still ongoing despite the closure. (Tara Yap / MANILA BULLETIN) (Tara Yap / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

During a hearing Thursday held by the House Committee on Natural Resources about the ongoing rehabilitation of Boracay in Aklan, the solons couldn't help but notice the supposed absence of a "grand plan" in fixing the environmental woes that caused to the island's closure to tourists in the first place.

Among those invited to the hearing were officials from the DENR and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), who are part of the wider Boracay inter-agency rehab task force earlier formed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"With due respect...we had an on-site hearing last June 1 and all of the stakeholders were present. One of the questions was really, the absence of a comprehensive action plan. And I think...the stakeholders, the residents, the investors, even NGOs (non-government organizations) are asking,"the committee chairman, LPGMA Party-List Rep. Arnel Ty told the agency executives.

"We are waiting for that comprehensive action plan that we haven't received yet," added Ty, whose House Resolution (HR) No. 1706 led to hearing-slash-inquiry.

Known for its pristine beaches, Boracay was ordered closed for six months by Malacañang beginning April 26 after a long-brewing sewage problem there went out of hand. Duterte went as far as to describe the popular tourist spot--which had been overrun by hundreds of commercial establishments--as a "cesspool."

There's great urgency in restoring Boracay to its old self since the economic losses of an extended closure would be tough on residents. DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, who attended Thursday's hearing, earlier said that such losses could reach as much as P20 billion.

Aklan lone district Rep. Carlito Marquez, an engineer, questioned the feasibility of the task force's plan to address Boracay's sewage problem through the use of portable sewage treatment plants or STPs.

"Kung ang plano nga natin ay dapat bumili sila ng STPs na portable, hanggang saan na ba tayo doon? Kasi wala na tayong oras. Tsaka nakausap niyo na ba yung supplier? Halimbawa 500 ang bibili, mayroon ba silang masusuplay? Kailan ba made-deliver? Kailangan yun eh," he said.

(If our plan is for the commercial establishments to buy portable STPs, then how are we doing. Because we don't have time. Also, have you spoken to the supplier? What if we need to buy 500, can they supply it? When will it be delivered? We need those data.)

"Baka mapahiya tayo, ang DENR mismo nag-pronounce na (We might lose face, the DENR itself pronounced that) by October 26, we hope to reopen Boracay. Baka hindi natin makumbinsi ang Presidente...Marami pa ang ating problema, kabit-kabit pa (We may not be able to convince the President...We still have a lot of problems, they're interconnected)," noted Marquez.

ACT-Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro agreed with the Aklan solon in that they may not be enough time to meet the October 26 target.

"Maganda yung tinanong ni Congressman Marquez kanina, pangalawang buwan napo ito (Congressman Marquez posed a good question a while ago; this is already the second month)," she said.

"Nakikita natin na wala pa talagang grand plan para doon sa pagre-rehabilitate ng Boracay. May kanya-kanyang plano ang DENR at iba pa na hindi parin coordinated. Ang taumbayan nagtatanong, ano ba talaga yung gagawin niyo sa Boracay?" Castro added.

(We can see that there is as yet no grand plan for the rehabilitation of Boracay. The DENR and others have different plans that are still not coordinated. The people is asking, what are you really going to do to Boracay?)

Communication problem

Densing responded by saying that it isn't true that they don't have a concerted plan for the island's rehabilitation.

"Ang DENR, DOT (Department of Tourism) at kami po sa DILG, nag-meeting napo kami at tinignan namin kung ano ang posibilidad kung isasara ang isla, kung ano ang mangyayari. Tuloy-tuloy ang pagdi-diskusyon namin ng plano sa mga stakeholders," he claimed.

(The DENR, DOT and us from the DILG have met and discussed the possibilities if we close the island. We continuously discuss our plan with the stakeholders.)

For his part, DENR Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo admitted that there might be a communication problem as far as conveying the task force's actions to the public is concerned.

"What Usec Densing said is correct, but the process in communicating to the stakeholders, sa tingin namin (we think) needs improvement," he said.

As for the comprehensive action plan that Ty was asking for, Adobo said that they would submit it soon.

"This is a consolidation of all individual plans per agency...these are our guideposts for the implementation of the rehabilitation. And we are reporting it regularly to the Office of the President. Now, the inter-agency task force also passed a resolution to provide both Houses of Congress a copy of that regular report."

Ty said he would call for another hearing on the matter.