MANILA, Philippines – New construction, including the planned integrated casino resort, would have to take a “backseat” in the rehabilitation of Boracay Island to stop its decay and eventual demise, two lawmakers said.
Leyte Representative Lucy Torres Gomez, chairperson of the House committee on tourism, and Samar Rep. Edgar Sarmiento said a moratorium on new structures in the famous tourist destination and a “temporary closure” would be among the recommendations of the committee in the report it will submit from the inquiries it conducted on Boracay’s pollution and overpopulation.
“Once a plan of action is rolled out, that would probably have to take a backseat,” Gomez said in a news conference when asked to comment on the building of the hotel casino.
“The recommendation is for all, it doesn’t favor not just one establishment over the other,” she added.
News reports have said that two integrated casino resorts would be built in the tourist island.The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation said negotiations for the casino have started even before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte earlier said he wanted Boracay shut down to pave the way for its total clean-up following years of neglect, over-development, environmental degradation and congestion.
The committee report to be released by the panel stemmed from Sarmiento’s House Resolution No. 1087 to conduct an inquiry into the “roadmaps, programs, projects and action plans of the Department of Tourism that aim to regulate tourist spots in order to promote sustainability.”
Gomez also filed House Bill No. 7229 seeking to integrate and establish pertinent policies and regulations to ensure sustainability in the tourism industry.
“Fixing Boracay now, however painful, is plainly necessary,” she said.
“Some establishments declare themselves compliant to all laws and regulation, and therefore claim immunity to retribution,” Gomez said.
“However, let us be clear that it is not as much about retribution as simply recognizing that all businesses and residents share one island. The problems involve its basic systems and thus, everyone is connected in these problems,” she added.
According to Gomez, the committee supports the temporary closure of Boracay “In order to address the high risk issue of discharging untreated waste water into the beach.”
The committee said that waste water dumping are an ecological disaster; a major health hazard; and, serious threat to the tourism reputation and brand of Boracay.
“The committee has taken into account the economic implications of a temporary closure,” Gomez said.
In 2016, the island brought in P60 billion in tourism receipts, which means a closure would result in monthly losses of around P5 billion.
“This is definitely a hefty sum, and both business establishments and residents will suffer the consequences. However, on balance, the committee put more weight on the long-term viability and sustainability of tourism in Boracay, versus the short-term economic collateral damage that comes with closing its doors to incoming tourists,” she said.
Gomez called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Tourism, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority and the Malay local government to formulate strategic courses of action, which would be the basis of the time period for closure.
She also underscored the need for a unified code of law that would govern all matters that would pave the way for sustainable tourism in the country.