Drainage audit, ‘structures’ dismantling, top Boracay priorities

MANILA With Boracay island's closure date starting April 26, the national government is now preparing its "big ticket" rehabilitation works in the island, which include drainage audit and dismantling of illegal infrastructures that violate environmental laws.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre said Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores already reaffirmed his commitment to this effort, including some Boracay stakeholders who have initiated the demolition of their own structures.

"Six months is really not enough, but these are big-ticket items that can be done within the first six months," he said in a press briefing in MalacaAang.

This is based on the draft timeline by the inter-agency task force, composed of the DOT, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In an initial report, at least 190 establishments within easement areas and 937 illegal infrastructures within forestlands and wetlands were identified by the inter-agency group.

With this number of illegal establishments, "there's a lot of illegal connections on the drainage," which causes wastewater discharge in the sea, DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said.

A working conference is set next Tuesday that will be stakeholders, local government units and officials from the DILG, DOT, and DENR.

"We hope to get a clearer picture before Tuesday, but as it is we are still discovering pipes that have been hidden from us all these years," Alegre said.

At the Cabinet meeting, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said validation on which resort owners are in compliance with rules and regulation of the island were recommended. Densing said this was readily conducted within the day.

"We found out that (some) establishments who are saying they are compliant end up not to be compliant at all," Densing said.

In one instance, Crown Regency Prince, a hotel on the island claimed they were compliant vis-a-vis the sewerage treatment plant (STP).

"We found out that they don't even have a sanitary permit nor a functioning STP, that's why the hotel had to be closed," he added.

"Based on the recommendation we've made just yesterday, during the period of closure from May until August, we are going to validate and do an environmental compliance audit for each establishment whether they say they are compliant or not," he added.

Drafted case

Government lawyers are now drafting "potential administrative case" against individuals responsible for the polluted state of the island.

"We have finished now our evidence gathering, we're finishing our case build-up activity, right now, our lawyers are drafting a potential administrative case," Densing said, adding their target filing date is on or before April 14.

When asked how many officials were included, no figures were revealed but Densing said the standard procedure is to investigate "all local officials who are managing the island."

Not entirely closed

Technically, Boracay is only closed to foreign and local tourists, Densing and Alegre said.

This, given that the government cannot close it without due process.

"First of all, government and its agencies cannot arbitrarily close institutions without due process," the DILG official added.

Since the major issue of pollutants come from the market, which are the visitors coming into the island, Densing said it's for the best they keep Boracay tourist-free temporarily, "so that while doing the rest of the rehabilitation, there will be no additional pollutants that can come into the island."

To circumvent impending labor crisis in the island, some of the affected residents and workers are hoped to join the Boracay restoration works.

The shutdown was supposed to be at a later date, or during the off-peak season starting June, as confirmed by DOT Secretary Wanda Teo.

With the initiatives of the local government to cancel tourist activities such as the popular LaBoracay on top of the rising level of pollution in the island, the inter-agency decided to move the shutdown at an earlier date.

"It's the LGU who decided to cancel LaBoracay, now that it's cancelled, there's more reason to execute the rehabilitation on an earlier date," Alegre said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday approved the recommendation to close the island for six months starting April 26. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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