Known for its fine-grain white sand, crystal-clear waters with vibrant marine life and sunsets that every photographer dreams to chase, Boracay Island, which once used to the tourism flagship of the Philippines is once again in the spotlight. This time, however, in an intriguing controversy. Sadly, the fear that this beautiful island paradise will be destroyed, is now becoming a reality.
According to the law, there is a 400-hectare forested area in Boracay. Which means, establishments should not be allowed to be build there. In spite of that, the latest statistics of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) noted that there are 600 infrastructures in the forested area. To add, three to four thousand illegal settlers occupy that area and fake land titles are everywhere. Some plots of land have three or even more different and unrelated claimants. To make things worse, the rainwater drainage pipes have been illegally tapped by commercial and residential establishments. Instead of just rainwater, their illegal connections are the reasons why waste is coming out from the pipes and into the sea. (Undersecretary, Department of Tourism)
These shocking facts may be painting an ugly scene for all the tourists out there, but this is what is happening.
In fact, I witnessed these changes myself. From 2010, when Boracay was still the closest to paradise that Philippines could offer, until recently – there are many things which I felt could be imposed to deal with the negative changes that have been developing. Here are my thoughts:
Firstly, I wish there was an improvement on Jetty Port. The port is located in Caticlan where tourists ride a small boat to go to the island of Boracay. After visiting again after more than a decade, it still looks and feels the same. It was crowded, not well ventilated and the smell was interesting when you walked past the public toilets. Living abroad has taught me to be more straightforward. But that is actually difficult to learn and practice because honestly, my Filipino culture and heritage cultivates a character that is somewhat passive and believes that voicing out or complaining can be misinterpreted as to be rude.
I wonder what happened to the Environmental (PHP75) and Terminal Fee (PHP100)? Although the fees may be less than AUD5 when converted, it could definitely be a significant sum when multiplied to the thousands of tourists that visit the island. The money could be used to improve Jetty Port and thus, give positive first impressions to visitors.
The next thing that needs to be mentioned is the narrowness of the main road of Boracay Island. I wish that the authorities could fix the narrow road or perhaps, include decent pathway at the side for pedestrian usage. On my recent visit, I felt unsafe to be walking dangerously close to moving vehicles on the main road. It might be impossible to widen the road but it feels odd to see new establishments like restaurants and hotels built closely beside the road. I just want to feel safe and free from stress when walking or browsing the establishments.
Another fact worthy of mention is how Station 3 has changed. In the past, I could easily ascertain if I had reached the station itself when walking but with the huge swarm of hotels and coconut trees, I barely know where I’m walking to. This is certainly a different sight to behold. Tourism sure is booming and going strong but it also means that its progress comes at the expense of the environment. Sure, the businessmen and locals benefit but how about Mother Nature? This leads us to the issue raised by Department of tourism as mentioned on the first few paragraphs.
Lastly, the biggest shock that I received was during the typhoon. Although I was not scared by the strong winds as I would occasionally experience that in Sydney, I was shocked and saddened to see people digging the sand near the shoreline in order to drain the water when the main road got flooded. Also, during one of the rainy nights, we were prohibited to enter D’ mall in Station 2 because there were exposed electricity lines that may electrocute people. According to Philippine Information Agency, The TIEZA or Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority are set to commence the Phase II of Boracay drainage improvement project at the beginning of this year.
Despite the concerns that have been raised, the question is, should we still visit Boracay?
I would give a definite yes. Where else can you get an hour of whole body massage for AUD6, indulge in various water sports from paragliding to helmet diving (which I was not able to try because of the untimely typhoon), island hopping and legit fresh seafood? Along with the relentless night life despite the heavy rain, buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, clear ocean water, friendly locals who are willing to help you out where to get beautiful and affordable souvenirs… I could go on and on and on. And it saddens me to think that the island would lose its beauty in the near future if people don’t take care of it.
After two consecutive stormy days (when it was hard to stroll around because of the strong wind and heavy rainfall), the sun finally showed up. But it was on the day that I had to leave the island. All I heard was the sound of the waves and the chirping of birds. A bittersweet goodbye indeed. The island’s beauty simply can’t be justified in words. It left me speechless but gave me a different kind of feeling. Its allure gave me hope, asking me to visit her again.