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The BIDA bill and the turbulence facing the Boracay tourism industry

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The BIDA bill and the turbulence facing the Boracay tourism industry

Home » Boracay News & Updates » The BIDA bill and the turbulence facing the Boracay tourism industry

Editor’s Note: Due to its significance, we are reprinting this article posted on BIDA Movement FB Page https://www.facebook.com/BIDA-Movement-106512091243655

For decades, how tourism fully impacts Boracay Island, where it is a dominant economic activity, has never been fully understood.

However, a consensus on strategic and sustainable tourism development and management is now slowly emerging on the island despite differing perspectives and divergent interests due to the creation of the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA).

Even political figures, particularly congressmen from various districts of the country, are now clamoring for a piece of the BIDA bill and offering a completely different outlook on the tourism situation in Boracay: a development that could ignite the passage of the initiative that will change the course of tourism in the country.

But although the proposed BIDA bill is clearly providing us a bigger picture of opportunities in tourism development and the role of the national government and stakeholders in it, there is an internal challenge for an “Authority” to exist with the sole purpose of balancing the bill’s objectives with that of the local government unit’s usually convoluted policies.

OVERVIEW OF THE BILL

Introduced by Congressman Paolo Duterte of the 1st District of Davao City and co-authored by Partylist Representatives Eric Yap and Sandro Gonzalez, House Bill 6214, otherwise known as “An Act Creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA)”, was brought into the limelight when President Rodrigo Duterte, at his 5th State of the Nation Address, classified the passage of the BIDA bill an important measure, which Congress had to include in its priorities.

Harping on the gains of his father’s six-month closure of Boracay that paved the way for its rehabilitation, the young Duterte now seeks the creation of a national authority that will oversee the island “to ensure the gains realized from the rehabilitation is continued and further develops the island.”

“After the successful rehabilitation process, the famous tourist spot dubbed as the New Boracay has seen a significant improvement. It was restored to its former glory as the best haven for tourists from around the world. The challenge at present is how to sustain the recent efforts of administration in cleaning and restoring the island,” the solon underscored in the proposed bill’s explanatory note.

It may be recalled that during his 5th SONA, President Duterte stressed that he wanted to sustain the efforts, saying, “We have seen the remarkable emergence of the island back to its former glory. I want this sustained, so I ask Congress to enact a law creating—and this is important–the Boracay Island Development Authority.”

From the way the proposed measure looks, BIDA is envisioned to become a corporate entity attached to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). The bill wants BIDA to be headed by an Administrator who shall be appointed by the President along with 10 others representing the DENR, NEDA, Malay LGU, provincial government of Aklan, DOT, DOST, DPWH, and DOTC.

The Malay LGU and the province of Aklan shall have two (2) representations each.

The bill lined up the following significant powers and functions of the Authority:

  • Promulgate all necessary rules and regulations
  • Enter into a contract
  • Establish a graded system of protection and development control over Boracay Island including its tribal lands, forest mines, agricultural areas, settlement areas, biodiversity, mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and the surrounding sea
  • Accept local and foreign investments, may it be businesses or enterprises
  • Undertake and regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of utilities, other services and infrastructure to fix just and reasonable rates, fares, charges, and other prices
  • Construct, acquire, own, lease operate and maintain on its own or through contracts, franchises, license permits, bulk purchases from the private sector, build-operate-transfer schemes, or joint ventures for the required utilities and infrastructure in coordination with the LGU and appropriate government agencies
  • Raise and/or borrow funds from financial institutions for project financing
  • Protect, maintain, and develop forest lands, protected areas and wetlands, and the rules of the DENR and other government agencies
  • Receive donations, grants, bequeaths and assistance of all kinds from local and foreign governments, and the private sector

The proposed bill has sought to allocate a capitalization of P150 Million for the Authority.

THE SENATE VERSION

Meanwhile in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also introduced a BIDA Bill (Senate S. No. 17), which aims to adopt sustainable development strategies in the Island of Boracay and protect its terrestrial and marine ecosystem by providing environmental safeguards.

“It is apparent that Boracay has suffered from the governmental system currently in place. It has failed to provide the island with the protection and preservation that it needs. Real and lasting changes must therefore be made,” he said in his explanatory note, adding “Restoring Boracay to its old, pristine glory is a lofty goal. With the recent restoration efforts, however, it has been shown that the said goal is not impossible. We have made great strides in getting Boracay back on its feet. Creating the Authority would help ensure that the island will continue to exist with a functioning ecosystem, under a workable plan for sustainable development.”

THE OXFORD ANALYSIS ON CLOSURE

The Oxford Business Group cited the positive effects of Boracay’s six-month temporary closure stating that it paved the way in encouraging sustainable practices and the rehabilitation of over-saturated areas on the island.

“Boracay has become the model for sustainable tourism, and the success of the rehabilitation program is a potential springboard for establishing a culture of environmentally-conscious tourism across the country,” it said.

However, it also underscored that “Boracay is an example of how tourism growth can have negative effects if it is not handled correctly.”

It noted how unchecked development, insufficient waste water treatment facilities, and overpopulation led to an emergency task force finding widespread environmental violations.

“The majority of sewerage facilities were draining waste into the sea and polluting the water.”

For its part, the Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research cited in a published paper the Boracay island situation as an exciting model, useful for other tourism destinations all over the world which are also facing uncontrolled growth.

“The framework for the analysis is an existing model, and comparisons between it and the case reveal similarities and divergences. Findings suggest the unique qualities of individual resorts arising from local and national circumstances, but indicate more general patterns and attendant challenges that have a wider applicability,” it said.

TOURISM AND POLITICS

Meanwhile, a separate study published by Nanyang Technological University titled “Turismos: An International Multidisciplianry Journal of Tourism” centered on the Philippines’ political culture as a source of turbulence in the tourism industry, underscoring that “influential political families are powerful actors and political parties are used as personal tools of self-seeking politicians” which affect governance and policy in the arena of tourism.

“Political circumstances are crucial in their effects,” the paper noted.

The case in Boracay Island had been singled out, in fact, by an earlier research paper published by William Trousdale of EcoPlan International.

In his comprehensive study of Boracay setting in the 90’s, which he called the Local Government Era, Trousdale wrote, “By 1992, only one year after the MDP cleared the environmental regulations of the DENR, the Local Government Code devolved a great deal of power and responsibility from the national level to the local government units (LGUs). The DOT was left with yearly accreditation of business establishments and implementation and monitoring of major tourism infrastructure projects. The mayor, among other powerful interests on the island, has suggested that the Master Plan and Guidelines are not valid, although the guidelines are part of the Municipal Code of General Ordinances. The mayor’s position dominates the actual management of the island.”

The same paper emphasized the reigning “local politics and kinship as governance factors” as it described Boracay as a “verbal, face-to-face society where family and clan loyalties are very important.”

“Airing of certain facts and opinions could subvert the social balance and have disadvantageous, and often dangerous, consequences for the unvigilant speaker…These social constraints and political systems have deep tradition roots on Boracay.”

“A major off-the-records issue on Boracay is favoritism, the doling out of special political treatment to family, friends or powerful economic interests. Ascertaining the true extent that favoritism impedes effective governance on Boracay is difficult. However, it is clear that many of the residents on Boracay believe it is a significant issue in the community. The charge of favoritism is generally directed at unfair enforcement of laws and regulations. Like favoritism, lack of political will is often identified as a deficiency of governance. While related, the major difference between favoritism and lack of political will is simply not enforcing the law rather than giving special treatment to a violator.”

Trousdale, in conclusion, lined up the following challenges during Boracay’s early years:

  • Marginalized community members uncomfortable with expressing their political views
  • Key decision makers who fail to recognize the existing and potential negative impacts of the rapid change on Boracay
  • Conflict between stakeholders
  • Polarized and inefficient barangay and municipal politics that lacks accountability
  • Poor information generation and dissemination
  • The impacts from the devolution of power to the LGU in the Local Government Code that includes confusion over governance relationships, roles and responsibilities as well as lack of administrative skills and manpower

But businessmen and industry experts are actually echoing the same sentiments. Because, while creative strategic development of Boracay tourism has been implemented, the problem of favoritism and lack of political will are making tourism businesses less attractive or competitive.

And while it is true that the Department of Tourism (DOT) oversees the industry and is charged with promoting it as a major socio-economic activity to generate foreign currency and employment, it has very little power on the administration of Boracay Island.

In the same vein, although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was given the mandate to oversee the rehabilitation of the island to address various ecological issues after President Duterte declared to close the island for six months starting April 26, 2018, its control of the island was just temporary and things started to mess up again when the local government regained control of the process.

In fact, major environmental issues cropped up anew, but this time exacerbated by corruption involving millions of pesos.

P52 MILLION IN 3 MONTHS

On February 4, this year, cases of graft and corruption relative to environment violations were filed against 16 officials of Malay along with 10 others before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas over the anomalous garbage fee paid to a private contractor by the Local Government Unit of Malay.

The case involves close to P52 million for the three-month hauling of garbage, mainly coming from Boracay Island, as well as the maintenance of the Malay Sanitary Landfill.

The complaint, backed by the finding of the Commission on Audit (COA) questioning the legality of the payment, also contains charges of Plunder and violations of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Water Act, the Toxic and Hazardous Wastes Law, and the Code of Conduct of Public Officials and Employees.

Included in the charge sheet are the former and current mayor of the Municipality of Malay.

A month before that, a case of graft and corruption, abuse of authority, and gross negligence was filed against the entire officials of the Municipality of Malay headed by Mayor Frolibar Bautista, for collecting a user’s fee for all sports activities using the water pontoon on the island without the requisite of a Municipal Ordinance.

Ironically, the implementation of the user’s fee was made without the approval of the Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation Management Group (BIARMG), the agency tasked to manage the island under the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) which was formed via Executive Order No. 53 in 2018 to clean up and rehabilitate the island.

In fact, both locals and tourists alike, most of them in the business sector, pointed out that there is a nagging complexity caused by conflicting ways on how the island is administered. Let’s take for example the current situation between the BIARMG and the LGU. With BIARMG always taking into consideration long-term interests and the LGU focused more on short-term concerns, there is bound to be conflict on how thing are addressed on the island.

It has to be emphasized that these conflicts do not only hinder growth for the island but is becoming a critical issue among the business sector, sowing confusion as to whom to follow. And if this continues, this will be potentially devastating for both the business sector and the local communities.

The list of concerns is actually endless but some of the major points brought into fore are the following:

  • That the utter and miserable failure of local governance for more than two decades led to the closure of Boracay
  • During this period, the rapid development and commercialization of the island happened outside the context of proper planning and zoning. Local officials were too quick to develop and thought nothing of environmental conservation
  • The LGU operation continues to be marked by incompetence and excessive bureaucratic rigmarole
  • Local policies are lorded by incompetent and corrupt local officials who are even notorious for passing “For Sale” resolutions and ordinances
  • Business owners and potential investors alike feel hassled by all the red rape that was already killing the business growth on the island way before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • That the feudalist nature of the local officials was the reason for the existence of so-called “politics of affinity”, in which selective implementation of laws and ordinances caused the misalignment of general public interest
  • With the lack of expertise, these local policymakers are simply incapable of managing Boracay’s multi-billion island tourism industry, which results in the implementation of poor policies (and the reason businessmen are becoming more and more agnostic about the future of commerce on the island)
  • (And) That this has become the main reason for the unchecked growth of informal settlers on the island. For the past three decades, the number of informal settlers from mainland Malay and the north (Romblon/Carabao Island and Mindoro) has grown phenomenally and nothing is being done to control it. Boracay is burdened by this unproductive ratio of settlers over tourists that put a strain on just about everything, not least of which is government’s waste management efforts. The President was right. The island was, indeed, a cesspool. Everyone could see that, but it took a presidential declaration to shut it down for six months
  • Boracay needs a program designed for competitive advantage, not ones that are “too local in nature”, too shortsighted, or lacking in-depth study. Measures to aid the business sector hurdle the challenges of the times are nowhere in place. Such ineptitude is nothing short of a national emergency
  • The BIARMG and LGU conflict poses a big question on how the national government will adopt and impose good policies and good practices when the local officials are blatantly disregarding them due to their own selfish interests, both for economic and political reasons
  • It is widely known that local officials prey on the stakeholders, especially the foreigners–Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese nationals–for the protection of their investments in the island, and this has become a good source for them to corner a funding come election time. This practice has resulted to the toleration of nefarious business activities on Boracay

And these concerns boil down to the issue of management of the island then and now, which, according to the local community and the business sector could only be stopped if the national government raises its profile in administering the island through an autonomous Authority that will ensure attention is paid to its long-term development potential.

Indeed, much is at stake here. Today, tourism is the largest industry in the world, a top earner of foreign exchange and a critical source of employment, and it is expected to maintain that distinction throughout the next century.

So if Boracay Island doesn’t exist under an autonomous Authority or if the national government continues to allow the local government to bungle the administration of the island, the island might lose the very paradise people fall in love with over and over again.

It is, therefore, imperative for the national government to put a limit to the decision-making power of the local government of Malay if it wants a foolproof system in place in Boracay Island–one that will promote and accelerate sustainable development and growth while maintaining ecological balance, which are embodied in House Bill 6214.

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november, 2020

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