Boracay is a paradise. One of the most popular in the country and one that has fallen victim to its own success.
The island has been our retreat of choice for the last xx years during holy week and one inescapable change that you notice is the over-crowding and over-development year after year.
Don’t get me wrong, I like development and I like progress. I love Boracay precisely because it is developed. I am not a fan of virginal beaches where you would have to take several rides just to get to a restaurant or a decent place to stay. By decent I mean an air-conditioned bedroom with a private bathroom and a bidet at the very least. A Starbucks nearby is also a nice bonus. I like the comforts that come with Boracay’s development but it doesn’t take a genius to see that it has gone overboard in that department.
The island has two major issues – overcrowding and unchecked environmental violations. In a television interview, Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre said that Boracay’s maximum capacity is 40,000 tourists per day but is currently hosting over 54,000 per day. Of course, technical capacity does not simply pertain to actual number of heads but more on how much acceptable impact the island can take from visitors and inhabitants alike. According to a study conducted way back in 1997, “using ‘beach area’ ratios as an indicator to tourist satisfaction, the tourists village (White Beach) is very close to reaching its carrying capacity and is already experiencing the effects of crowding.”
Meanwhile, in December 2017, a typhoon left the island with massive flooding that exposed how some local businesses exploited the island’s unfinished drainage system to dispose of wastewater and sewage.
So when the country’s infamous president brilliantly announced that Boracay is a cesspool (because that is how you ruin the image of a major tourist attraction in your own country) one takeaway that made sense from the potty-mouthed bravado is the fact that the island needs to be rehabilitated from years of abuse and neglect by local officials that turned a blind eye to blatant environmental violations. But while rehabilitation is a welcome course of action, the administration zeroed in on full closure to immediately address the island’s problems. This move is highly suspicious given that the administration also welcomed a 23-hectare Chinese owned casino resort to start construction on the island.
On Good Friday, I went on an early morning walk in Boracay and talked to some of the locals who pointed out the developments that are currently in the works – road widening and drainage improvements.
The locals whose only source of income are what they earn daily on the island are calling out the administration’s ulterior motives why the development is being done in a rush without taking into account the hundreds of workers who will be left without jobs. According to them, projects could be done per area while limiting the number of tourists but instead, full closure is sought. They feel that the government’s priority is preparing the island for the Chinese investors and not the Filipino workforce who will be stripped of the only livelihood they know and have. They feel betrayed by the very president they once supported.
Because of the rushed crackdown mainly on White Beach, we stayed at Cohiba Villas about 10-15 minutes inward of the island. The reported drop in the number of tourists is hardly noticeable when you are on the main beach plus it is unnerving (and quite annoying tbh) seeing so many cops day and night on the beach this year so we needed to be away from all that.
Cohiba Villas boasts of having the largest serviced apartment villas in Boracay with 30-40m2 verandas that look out to an amazing view of Bulabog Beach – the same site where the embattled casino resort will be erected. They have a free hourly shuttle to the D’Mall from 8AM-12MN. You can also arrange for a private service to any point on the island.
We saved our visual diary for last to prove a point – that despite the many changes that the island is going through, Boracay remains to be one the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines and still our #1 beach destination of choice in the country. Far from the image that the president is selling to justify any move that would ease in big business, Boracay’s issues are manageable if only corruption is curbed. And while the need for closure is debatable, one thing that we wish this administration would prioritize over the needs/demands of foreign investors are the vendors, drivers, bangkeros, and all others who only depend on the island to support their daily needs.
All images © 2018 Dale Bacar
While the PH government initially defended the construction of a casino on the island, the decision was later retracted in true Duterte fashion after online clamor and disapproval. His supporters applauded the decision but it also raised red flags for other potential business investors about the erratic and unreliable decision-making of this administration.
Meanwhile, the island remains closed. The supposed rehabilitation is reportedly half-baked with no actual plans and timelines. Businesses continue to lose money and more importantly, most workers are still left without jobs.
Propagandists continue to post photos of the beach with no people and hail them as proof of the rehabilitation’s success, conveniently leaving out the muddled parts of the main beach. But then Boracay has always looked pretty in pictures especially in early mornings when there are fewer people. The algae should also be gone after the summer season. The true and only proof of success should be the reduction of the coliform levels in the water and the completion of proper sewage for all establishments on the island – and these we do not hear anything about.
Using the pandemic as a convenient excuse, Duterte lifted the 3-year moratorium on casino operations in Boracay. It can be remembered that Duterte met with Macau Galaxy Entertainment in 2017 prior to their approval to erect a $500M casino resort in Boracay in 2018. Duterte later imposed the moratorium after massive backlash from citizens who opposed the move.