By Tara Yap
With the gradual return of tourists to Boracay Island, government policies will undergo improvement to sustain the efforts in preserving the resort island’s environmental balance.
Both the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave the assurance to fine-tune policies after the October 26 reopening of the famous resort island in Malay town, Aklan province.
While the first batch of tourists who entered Boracay are pleased with the cleanup efforts, many have expressed dismay at the enforcement of unreasonable policies right after the resort island’s six-month closure period
“Comparing it to a car’s engine, it’s still in a warm-up phase. There’s still fine-tuning,” DOT Undersecretary Art Boncato Jr. told Manila Bulletin.
“It’s a working progress. There may still be adjustments,” added DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda.
Secretaries Bernadette Romulo-Puyat of DOT and Roy Cimatu of DENR earlier emphasized how the Boracay interagency task force that also includes the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is merely implementing existing national laws and local laws that were not strictly enforced prior to the April 26 closure.
Boracay’s reopening was subdued due to government restrictions including partying and dining along the famous stretch of the white-sand beach as well as creation of sandcastles. The directive of President Duterte to ban casinos is also in place.
“It’s a price we pay for commercialism,” noted Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza, a popular chef from Iloilo.
Having been to Boracay since the 1970s, Jardeleza feels a little bit nostalgic seeing a wider and cleaner beach. But he said it won’t go back to the way it was with the presence of high-rise hotels and resorts.
“One of the things that made Boracay popular was its rural setting, but the overdevelopment changed that,” Jardeleza told Manila Bulletin.
While the chef knows Boracay will not be the paradise island it once was, he hopes the government will strictly enforce zoning.
Limitation of tourists
Based on a study commissioned by the DENR, there should only be an accumulated 19,215 tourists in Boracay per day. That means that only 6,405 can enter the resort island per day.
When Boracay opened though, more than 7,000 rooms were available to tourists.
Jelmar de Jong, a 51-year-old Dutch tourist who has been coming to Boracay yearly since 1995, told Manila Bulletin that the government should not be limiting the number of tourists. Instead, the number of rooms and hotels should be limited.
“We can’t do that in the spirit of free enterprise,” said Boncato.
The tourism undersecretary also noted that the number of rooms available for tourists may not be as many as prior to closure period.
“We don’t expect all hotels and resorts to reopen again. Some of these resorts have major violations including being built on a wetland or located on timberland areas,” Boncato said.
While the carrying capacity has served as a blueprint for the government, the number of people allowed in the island may later be adjusted.
“We will study this deeper that we don’t violate anyone’s rights. People have a right to do business. People have the right to travel,” emphasized Antiporda.
There are also plans to relocate workers from Boracay to mainland Malay town or neighboring towns to be able to reduce the number of people.
Both DOT and DENR assured that suggestions from tourists and other stakeholders will be taken into consideration.
“This is going to be doable,” added Antiporda.