Boracay Rehabilitation: A case of ecological and social justice
A Position Paper of the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines
on the Rehabilitation and Proposed Closure of the Boracay Island
The island of Boracay has been experiencing two decades of recurring issues on waste water and solid waste management that have caused a decline in tourist arrivals and therefore a loss of income. There had been outbreaks of coliform bacteria as early as 1997 that caused a 60% decline in tourist arrivals during that period.1 In 2004, the coliform crisis continued since not all establishments were connected to the centralized sewage treatment plant according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The same problem was also encountered in 2009 and 2015, and again in the assessment of DENR in the current year.
In addition to this, the island’s biodiversity has also suffered greatly from unregulated and anarchic sprout of commercial development virtually converting large swathes of foreshore areas into coastal tourism destinations bringing in uncontrolled influx of tourists from all over the world. A study of the Philippine and Japanese governments showed that the coral cover declined 70.5% over a period of only two decades which coincided with the 38.4% increase in tourist arrivals.2 Both the decline of water quality and coral reef deterioration were associated with the direct discharge of untreated water waste near the shore.3 Barangay Yapak, located in the northern side of the island, is the home of endemic and endangered bats such as the flying foxes which has drastically declined in population due to habitat loss and human disturbance.4
The decline in water quality and biodiversity loss have shown that the mechanisms to manage heightened tourism interest in the island are lacking and reflect mismanagement and weak governance. And now, these environmental issues are being used as reasons for the proposed closure which will further cause massive displacement to the lives of the residents reliant on tourism and related activities for their livelihoods, amounting to more than 36,000 workers. This threat raises this issue from a case of ecological justice to a case of social justice.
Rehabilitation should indeed be undertaken but it should not come at the cost of people’s lives and livelihoods. Our right to a healthy ecosystem should go hand in hand with our right to livelihood.
More importantly, environmental rehabilitation should serve primarily the majority of the
population especially the small farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people and not big corporate
local and foreign interests.
Instead of a total closure, there should be a moratorium on new and expansion of
establishments while environmental laws are strictly implemented. Violators of environmental
laws should be held accountable and liable. Livelihood of the workers should be ensured.
The rehabilitation and management of tourism in Boracay should therefore usher in
improvements not only to the natural coastal environment but also to the marginalized
communities in the vicinities as well. There should be a democratic, comprehensive and
scientifically-sound rehabilitation program that involves participation by all stakeholders before
any rehabilitation activities are to take place.
The tourism industry in the country is capitalized on rich biodiversities and beautiful sceneries
of the archipelago. Many poor farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people communities are
directly benefitting from their services for their survival. Therefore, tourism in the country
should promote and develop appreciation, respect and improvement of community life, history
and traditions, and the local environment. The industry should be geared towards national
development and not cause further violation of people’s rights, economic imbalances and
1 Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/968277/what-went-before-boracays-environmental-issues
2 The study was undertaken as part of the Coastal Ecosystem Conservation and Adaptive Management (CECAM) project funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Retrieved from https://businessmirror.com.ph/70-of-boracay-coral-reefs-gone-after-23-years-study/
3 According to University of the Philippines scientist Miguel Fortes. Retrieved from https://businessmirror.com.ph/70-of-boracay-coral-reefs-gone-after-23-years-study/
4 According to the conservation group Friends of Flying Foxes retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/52107/boracay%E2%80%99s-other-attraction-flying-foxes