Let’s be clear—crystal blue water clear—about something: there is nothing complicated about the problem in Boracay. Other tourist destinations have the same simple problem. The only difference, really, is how the problem there is being addressed. And it seems to me that the one main ingredient missing is political will.
What is political will anyway? Well, for people promoting genuine change, it is nothing less than the holy grail itself. The enforcement of laws without fear or favor. The use of political power unconditionally for the welfare of the public.
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To put it bluntly, the utter and miserable failure of local governance for more than two decades led to the closure of this country’s premiere island destination wherein during this period began the rapid development and commercialization of the island outside the context of proper planning and zoning. Obviously, it was during this same period that Local officials were too quick to develop and thought nothing of environmental conservation whatsover.
Now, the question is, why would the island of Boracay needs a measure like BIDA or Boracay Island Development Authority? Well, there are a hundred and one reasons but let me just point out here the top ones:
- The LGU operation is marked by incompetence and excessive bureaucratic rigmarole
- Business owners and potential investors alike feel hassled by all the red tape that is killing the business growth on the island even before the onset of the Covid-19
- With the lack of expertise, these local policymakers are simply incapable of managing Boracay’s multi-billion island tourism industry, which results therefore to the implementation of poor policies (and the reason businessmen are becoming more and more agnostic about the future of commerce on the island)
- Local policies are lorded by incompetent and corrupt local officials. (Is it true that some of those at the Sanggunian Bayan are notorious of passing “For Sale” Resolutions and Ordinances?)
- The feudalist nature of the local officials was the reason for the existence of so-called “Politics of affinity” wherein selective implementation of laws and ordinances caused the misalignment of general public interest
- And this has become the main reason of an unchecked growth of informal settlers. For the past 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
- 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
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Dr. Miguel Fortes, a coastal management specialist from the University of the Philippines, who shared his insight years ago on what Boracay needs, succinctly terming it “Think and Act”.
These two go together. Meeting, thinking, and planning are useless without implementation because the bottom-line is still the results. For decades, this was what happened in Boracay—endless meeting and planning, but zero action.
“Think and Act” sounds straightforward enough. And that’s exactly what the President did. Which is why he was right when he declared the closure of the island for 6 months after declaring it a cesspool. The island was, indeed, a cesspool. Everyone could see that, but it took a presidential declaration to shut it down for six months.
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Now, since the Boracay Task Force is about to end, the President wants that Congress include in its priorities a measure creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) that aims to sustain the efforts of the national government in cleaning and restoring the island considered as the country’s jewel and tourism pride.
And during his 5th State of the Nation Address, he called for the urgent passage of the BIDA Bill, which explains why similar bills have mushroomed since then.
Obviously, the President was referring to a Bill introduced by his own son, Congressman Paolo Duterte of the 1st District of Davao City, who filed on Feb. 5, this year, House Bill No. 6214 otherwise known as “An Act Creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA)”. Said bill is co-authored by Representatives Eric Yap (ACT-CIS) and Sandro Gonzalez (Marino).
Well, I share the President’s opinion that the rehabilitation of Boracay Island showcases the government’s resolve to safeguard the environment, and that this particular Bill is important for the island to go back to its former glory. I truly believe BIDA is what the island needs as it is actually laying down the foundation for a plan…a good plan.
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But you see, there are so many things that have to be considered here. If there would be BIDA, I believe it must be BIDA that has enough power to work autonomously in the administration of the island. I don’t know how the framers of the Bill would do this but this should be the case for it to be successful.
If an “Authority” will not work as autonomous as it can be, or if we permit the local government to continue bungling the administration of the island, this is a measure that can be considered a failure from the very beginning.
Let’s take for example the current situation between the Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation Management Group (BIARMG), the implementing arm of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force. The LGU and BIARMG, most of the time, run in conflict on how things have to be addressed wherein BIARMG always taking into consideration the long-term interests while the LGU is focused more on the short-term interests.
Let me highlight that these conflicts do not only hinder growth for the island but is becoming a critical issue among the business sector for it sow confusion on who to follow. And if this continues, I mean the nagging complexity caused by conflicting ways of administering the island, it could be potentially devastating for both the business sector and local communities.
Let me put it this way: how would the national government 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?
How can the national government make all the wrongs right when its hands are tied? 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, in fact, has resulted to the toleration of some nefarious business activities on the island.
This has to stop. And this can only be stopped if the island will be under the administration of a single authority that is autonomous from the operations of the LGU.
Much is at stake here, not just reputation. The business community in Boracay, for one, is pinning their hopes on the BIDA bill before they work towards making a huge rebound.
And I would like to say this again, and again, that it is now high time that the national government has to put a limit on the decision-making power of the local government of Malay pertaining to Boracay Island and an autonomous Authority is in order if Boracay were to move towards ecological sustainability and for it to provide a broader context in the implementation of a system on the island, one that will promote and accelerate sustainable development and growth while maintaining ecological balance which is embodied in HB 6214.
If we fail this time around, we might lose the very paradise we fall in love with over and over again. Let’s not allow that to happen; never on our watch.