Boracay Resident’s Perspective on the closure
A Boracay Resident Speaks Out
How will I feed my family? How am I able to send my kids to school? Am I able to easily find work that will match my skills? Do I have to move my family away from Boracay, to another place and start a new life? Do I need to separate from my family and work abroad? Where will my family end up? Lingering questions, a myriad of fearful thoughts, and a grim feeling of uncertainty in what lies ahead.
These are just some of the many things that go on in the mind of someone living and relying on Boracay’s tourism industry to survive.
The past weeks have been a roller coaster of ups and downs for the Boracay community. There is an eerie atmosphere of confusion and what-ifs in Boracay today. An impending announcement supposedly to be made on March 26 by no less than the President himself, of whether he will or will not accept the strong recommendation of the three secretaries for total closure of Boracay, did not push through. Judgment day has been moved to April 5, as announced by different media sources – an announcement that will almost certainly determine the future of families that rely on Boracay’s tourism industry for their daily sustenance.
Peaceful movements symbolizing solidarity, massive cleanups, and an appeal to the President to not close Boracay have been held with the strong hopefulness that President Duterte with his big heart will listen to the sentiments of the island community. After all, the islanders know that if anyone has the right to say that they are truly concerned about the island, it is them who have lived and worked in Boracay all their lives.
How did we get to this?
This question is one of the most commonly asked every time one mentions Boracay. The irony of it all is that the problem of Boracay has always been an open book. It is not like Pandora’s Box that has just been opened with its ills just surprising everybody. Boracay is a problem you, me, and everyone in government have known for years. For several years, decades even, the island’s stakeholders have lobbied and asked for concerned government agencies to return a substantial part of the island’s earnings back to the island. Yet, all these years the island’s requests have taken the back seat in the national government’s priorities – Boracay’s requests have fallen on deaf ears. Fast forward to today, the government agencies have come to “save” the island by closing it. Everyone wonders the same thing, “Why is the community taking all the blame and negative repercussions of a failure that is mostly due to the fact that the government has not been able to deliver the needed infrastructure, and support the island’s needs?” That indeed is a big question.
Currently, the local community is left in the dark with no idea of what will take place when the closure is enforced. The multi-agency task force needs to realize that the people of the island are not against rehabilitation. In fact, most members of the community are truly appreciative of the national government’s efforts for the island. It is undeniably an answered prayer that finally, Boracay as the country’s premier tourist destination, has all eyes on it. However, business as usual is certainly not an option as of now.
Island stakeholders agree that there is truly a need to rehabilitate certain areas, and put in place infrastructure to support the needs of the growing tourism industry and its residents. However, closure can certainly be done in a way that will result to minimum impact to everyone on the island. Members of the multi-agency task force have been broadcasting that the island will definitely be closed to both local and foreign tourists.
The mockery of it all is that legally operating establishments will not be prohibited from operating. Is this the option being considered by the task force for them to avoid liability? How do they expect businesses to renovate or refurbish their properties, when there are several losses to be assumed during the closure? How do they expect businesses to retain their employees for months or even a year with no income being generated? Is it really feasible for them to do the repairs all over the island all at the same time? Do they even have easy access to the budget and a budget to do all these? Will the government again be bringing in people to do the repairs simultaneously?
There are just too many questions left unanswered because the reality is that this entire hullaballoo is handled in a manner that is not fair, transparent, and inclusive. Decisions are made without consultation with the local community – those that will be the first ones to be affected. Plans, if any, are not presented and communicated with the local community.
The Little People
The people to be most affected are not the big hotels or the business owners who have businesses and residences elsewhere; it is the people who have nothing else – who live on a hand to mouth basis, who brought their families and left their homes to start a new life in Boracay because of the job opportunities that abound, it is these people who have nowhere else to go that will be the most affected.
In a region dominantly supportive of the Liberal party, it is very important to note that the island strongly supported President Duterte during the 2016 elections. This shows how the local community was hopeful that the President would bring about the change he promised, and that his leadership would trickle down to the island – and hopefully be able to address its concerns. With another hot issue on casinos soon to be constructed on the island, people can’t help but question “Is this the change we hoped for?” To this date, no communication efforts have been made with the local community regarding the closure, so no one really knows what lies ahead.
“In the spirit of federalism, the consent of the people, through the local council, must be obtained before a casino is constructed in the area,” said Senate President Aquilino Pimentel. As with all other plans for the island, stakeholders must be consulted and included in the planning. The guidelines on closure must be based on comprehensive statistics, proper consultations, and recommendations by those who will be affected the most, which are the local stakeholders. Putting the local stakeholders first is the major key in ensuring the sustainability of a tourism destination. When everyone understands the problems that beset the island and acknowledge their roles in solving the island concerns, this will ultimately lead to cooperation.
The Government Arms Involved
While the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is currently actively reaching out to the local community through dialogues and planning workshops, it is how the government plans to go about the closure that needs to be urgently discussed with the people.
The government needs to realize that implementing a total closure will not only affect the island’s stakeholders, Aklan Province will be a lifeless province –with nearby municipalities providing support services closing down shops and other businesses that also thrive owing to Boracay’s success. Families from nearby provinces will have to move back and will once again increase the unemployment rate of our country.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) needs to realize that once Boracay is closed, foreign tourists will not easily change their vacation plans to visit some other Philippine tourist destination. They will most certainly change their travel plans, and visit our other regional neighbors – Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, etc will most certainly thank us for diverting tourists their way. Now that the international media has picked up the news of the closure of Boracay, expect that the country’s tourism industry will have a very hard time to recover. All the years of hard work and billions spent on promotions and marketing will all be gone – and it would take years and maybe triple the investment to once again propel Philippine tourism, which has just recently gained initial momentum.
Judgment day has been moved to April 5, as per the task force. DOT together with Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and other agencies, are expected to arrive on April 9 to supposedly provide assistance to all those who will be affected. Until then, people mindlessly need to continue with their business and just wait and see what opportunities and remedies will be offered, if any (?)
Boracay as they say is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with our government and all its corruption, bureaucracy, and red tape. The lack of coordination and years of corruption within and among these agencies, as well as a lack of consultation with the stakeholders, have led to what Boracay is today. Certainly, there are so many are options aside from total closure –options that will have minimal impact on the island’s people, the farmers who provide the island’s supplies, the nearby municipalities and provinces who provide the island’s support and logistics. Tourism is not a simple light switch you can switch on if you want to, and switch off to save power. Total closure is unfair for the many businesses and good residents who have for decades been compliant and strived to preserve and maintain Boracay. Closing Boracay means futures placed on hold, families with nowhere to go, and fervent entrepreneurial minds which will lose hope in their dreams – it also means the end for other emerging Philippine destinations that rely on the success and connectivity to Boracay.
Closing Boracay means facing a major setback and loss in Philippine tourism, one that may take decades to bounce back from – and that is the reality – another bitter pill to swallow.
Boracay One Year on From Closure: Islanders remember closure day