ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Environment Secretary Jose “Lito” Atienza has called for a six-month moratorium on development projects in Boracay Island to ensure sustainable development.
Atienza went to Boracay on Monday to meet with resort owners, residents and other stakeholders, who have expressed alarm over the overstretching of the island’s resources.
During the meeting, Atienza said the construction of new buildings should be suspended until the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) comes up with a new development master plan for the island, which would ensure the protection and sustainable utilization of its resources.
He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would come up with an environmental protection master plan for the island within the six-month period.
“We need to restore order to the otherwise uncontrolled construction and introduction of new edifices and stop the over-stretching of the facilities especially the sewerage, water, drainage and power systems,” Atienza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, in a telephone interview.
He pointed out that because of the overcrowding and unhampered construction of buildings, some portions of the island are experiencing flooding especially during the rainy season.
“The only way to do this [control the construction] is to declare a moratorium,” Atienza said.
According to Atienza, he has no legal authority to stop the construction of new structures, as environment secretary, but he urged the municipal council of Malay, where Boracay is located, to pass a resolution suspending the issuance of permits to open up new business and construct new structures.
The steady increase in tourist arrivals in Boracay resulted in a construction boom there.
Tourist arrivals last year reached 554,181, 10.96 percent higher than the 499,457 arrivals recorded in 2005, according to data from the regional office of the Department of Tourism (DoT). Tourists who visited the island from January to March 2007 reached 140,835, or 7.59 percent higher than the 130,897 tourist arrivals in the same period last year.
Boracay’s income from tourism reached P10.18 billion in 2006, 24.44 percent higher than the P8.18 billion earnings in 2005.
The booming business on the island pushed the price of lands near the famous white beach to at least P45,000 per square meter, said Orlando Sacay, chair of the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI). The BFI is a group of resort owners, hotels and restaurants on the island.
Sacay said they fully supported the call for a moratorium on development projects.
“Each week, the municipal council receives five to six applications for building permits on the island. The island will sink if this goes on,” Sacay said in a telephone interview.
He said aside from a stop to the construction of new buildings, migration to the island should be controlled.
Sacay noted that the Boracay residents alone have been consuming half of the island’s water supply.
DoT regional director Edwin Trompeta said they would welcome a moratorium on development projects on the island but it should have the support of the DoT, PTA, local government units and the Boracay Eminent Persons Group, which is mandated to map out policies for the sustainable development of the island’s tourism industry.
In 2005, Tourism Secretary Ace Durano also proposed a moratorium on development projects in Boracay.
Durano said that the country’s premier tourist destination was in danger of being lost unless the problems of overpopulation, garbage disposal and proper construction would be addressed.
Government agencies and stakeholders of the island drafted the Boracay Master Development Plan in 1991 but this has not been implemented despite undergoing revisions.
The International Finance Corp. (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, which made a study in 2005 on sustainable tourism on the island, had proposed major reforms to sustain the island’s tourism industry.
The proposals include developing areas in Caticlan, the jump-off point to the island located in the Aklan mainland, as a major commercial and business district to ease the strain on Boracay’s resources.
The IFC also proposed the transfer of a solid waste management facility from Boracay island to Caticlan, the construction of low-cost mainland housing to ease migration and over congestion in Boracay, an improved transport facility between Caticlan and Boracay, the upgrading of Caticlan airport terminal facilities, a Caticlan-based full-service hospital to respond to emergencies and an agro-industrial center in Caticlan with ice and cold storage facilities and a public market.