Lolit Solis could still remember how Pasig River looked like before it was polluted and pushed to its current state. During the time of President Ramon Magsaysay, it was a vibrant place of transportation and tourism. At ten years old, she would ride the ferry from Paco, Manila, to Malacañang. She remembers lining up to meet the president every Christmas. It was a place where children used to play — until it deteriorated year by year. The transition was gradual. Pasig river did not end up as the garbage-filed dumpsite that it is today in an instant. It was an aggregate of what people thought were minor infractions. Until one day, the people who used it for transportation and the children who used to play in the area — could no longer recognize it. Resources are finite and while it is easier to take it for granted — we ought to protect the right of the next generation to a healthy ecology.
Before the six-month closure of Boracay, coliform bacteria in Bolabog reached as high as one million most probable number (MPN) per 100 ml. Access roads on the island were narrow that cars could not pass through. Pedestrians competed with pedicabs and tricycles in whatever little space was left in the carriageway. There were no sidewalks. Establishments encroached on the shoreline, on the road — with some section left with barely any sand. The capacity of the storm drainage infrastructure could only accommodate half of the actual volume of water. The sewerage system was not sufficient to address the volume of waste water on the island. Inland flooding had become a problem.
Six months after, Boracay seems to have turned back time. It was the island that residents knew 20 years ago. Water quality has significantly improved — lower than the acceptable threshold of 100 MPN/100 ml for swimming areas and 200 MPN/100 ml for areas of non-contact sport. Tourists are now able to enjoy a wider beach front after imposition of the 30-meter easement from the water’s edge.
Critics pointed out that Boracay beach closure was a drastic and authoritarian move. Such is not the case.
When I visited Arizona as part of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) — I learned that before the National Park Service shifted to a weighted lottery system for the noncommercial river permit system, the waiting list for a river permit in the Grand Canyon rafting was almost 27 years.
This is not an isolated case. For instance, along the border of Utah and Arizona, at the north edge of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, access to the Wave, a sandstone rock formation located in the Coyote Buttes North Special Management Area, has been limited to only 20 people a day. Spots are either won through the online Paria Canyon permit lottery or secured through a walk-in permit that may be retrieved at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center.
Interestingly, the tightened regulations are not only found in Arizona. In Washington, for instance, before tourists or residents can access the Colchuck Lake or the Little Annapurna, they need to first secure a Core Enchantments Permit, which is also won by lottery. The same is true for the Half Dome in California and the Selway River Rafting in Idaho.
Beach closures are not very peculiar either. In the State of Rhode Island, the moment the concentration of Enterocci bacteria in a beach water sample exceeds 60 colony forming units per 100 ml, they issue a temporary closure. In 2018 alone, there were at least 40 beach closures in Rhode Island,
Without regulations, there would be no complaints. But if we do not act now — the next generation might never see the beaches and the mountains we have all learned to love.