Boracay rehab, Manila Bay clean-up among Duterte’s environmental legacies

Published June 28, 2022, 1:33 PM

by Aaron Recuenco 

The start of the Duterte administration on July 1, 2016 proved to be a morale booster as far as pro-environment groups were concerned, particularly with the appointment of the late staunch environmentalist Gina Lopez at the helm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Buoyed by the strong backing of President Duterte, Lopez boldly showed the political will that her boss was known for by waging her own war to save the country from environment degradation.

In just less than a year since she assumed the top DENR post, Lopez issued orders that cancelled the permits and or rejected the applications of many mining operations all to the delight of pro-environment groups which were impressed by the hard stand yaken by the Duterte administration.

Her departure from the DENR led to the appointment of former military chief of staff Roy Cimatu, who became the President’s ‘bastonero’ or the take-charge guy for the two most important projects which the Duterte administration would be most remembered—the aggressive Boracay rehabilitation and the massive clean-up of Manila Bay.

After Duterte’s viral description of the Boracay Island as a cesspool, the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force was created purposely to rehabilitate the world-famous beach resort amid persistent reports of some of the establishments dumping their respective waste to the sea.

The Boracay rehabilitation also came with the target of protecting the natives of Boracay who have been repeatedly victimized by land-grabbing and hostile takeovers of land and properties.

In just a few months after the start of the clean-up drive, the rehabilitation was already visible with the enforcement of laws that forced most of the establishment owners and local residents to clear the beaches and right of ways according to the law—fetes that were previously deemed impossible to accomplish by cynics as some of the violators are wealthy and powerful.

Roads were improved to meet the tourists’ expectation of a world-quality tourist spot.

And the best part? The quality of the water at the beach and in at least nine wetlands improved based on the DENR report as almost, if not all, of the local residents, establishments owners and even tourists were forced to follow the strict implementation of rules with regard to waste disposal.

Early this month, the BIATF was dissolved and the management and supervision of the Boracay Island were turned over to the local government of Malay, Aklan, according to DENR Sec. Jim Sampulna who declared the Boracay Island clean-up a mission accomplished.

Amid the mental stress brought by the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Duterte administration embarked on another project that became controversial but was praised by his supporters—the Dolomite Beach.

Against all odds that included adverse scientific opinion of environmental experts on the logic and sustainability of dumping white sands from a bulldozed mountain in Cebu, the Duterte administration remained unperturbed and went on to realize the project.=

In its first opening to the public at the height of the pandemic, thousands flocked to the small portion of the Manila Bay to take Instagrammable selfies. For those who went to Dolomite Beach, it was all worth it as it gave them a relief of seeing a Boracay-like white beach within Metro Manila.

The Dolomite Beach was reopened to the public on June 12, which coincides with the Philippine’s celebration of Independence Day, after months of implementation of structure-building to protect the white beach from being gobbled up by strong waves at the Manila Bay.

But the Duterte Legacy on environment protection did not end with these two notable projects.

Amid the disasters and natural calamities that struck many communities in the country every year, the Duterte administration stepped up disaster resiliency by implementing big projects aimed at protecting the usual victims of widespread flooding.

By virtue of the Executive Order No. 120 which created the Task Force Build Back Better, President Duterte ordered concerned agencies to strengthen the climate resilience capacities of communities vulnerable to disasters and climate hazards, especially in Cagayan Valley, Bicol Region, and Marikina River Basin.

This resulted in the massive dredging operations in the Magapit Narrows, Cagayan, and Marikina Rivers, which were already completed, and the removal of critical sandbars restricting the water flows of the Cagayan, Marikina, and Bicol Rivers.

With regard the Duterte administration’s commitment to clean energy, the DENR reported that President Duterte pushed for the imposition of a moratorium on coal power projects, and advocate for the phase-down of unabated coal power and end of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies during the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.