Press Release
August 20, 2018

Opening Remarks of Senator Cynthia Villar

Today's proceeding is our third hearing on the Proposed Senate Resolution's No. 313, 393, 633, 640, 14 and 646 in relation to Senate Bills 327, 423, 471, 593, 1687 and 1756. These legislative measures direct this committee to look into critical environmental issues that contributed to the deteriorating ecological condition of Boracay and threatened its position as a prime tourist attraction in the country. Also, moving forward, a number of these measures suggest appropriate policies and strategic courses of actions for the protection and sustainable development of the island. SB No. 327 which I authored and SB No. 423 refer to adopting a sustainable coastal management strategy, SB No. 471 suggests establishing a policy mechanism for the sustainable development and use of Boracay, while SB No. 1756 suggest the creation of the Boracay Island Council, which will take over the management, development, regulation, protection and maintenance of the Island. At the same time, in the exercise of the oversight functions of this cimmitee, we will look into the progress of the rehabilitation work being done in Boracay, following its April 26, 2018 closure as a tourist destination by virtue of Proclamation no. 475 issued by President Duterte.

At this point, let us have a recap of what transpired during our previous hearing on 20 June 2018.

On said hearing, I was joined by our Senate Minority Leader, Franklin Drilon and Senator Antonio Trillanes. Resource persons include officials from the government agencies concerned, particularly the DENR, DILG, DPWH, DOT, TIEZA, DOJ, DAR, DOLE, and DSWd, the Province of Aklan and the Municipality of Malay. Representatives of the two water providers in Boracay (Boracay Water and Boracay Tubi), the Stakeholders from the communities and business sector on Boracay, and environment advocacy groups were likewise in attendance.

I inquired into the status of the notices of violations issued to the violators of environmental laws in the island, the list of homes and establishments in Boracay without waste water treatment facility or connection, and wether a delineation of the service areas of the water providers, Boracay Water and Boracay Tubi, was already undertaken. I reiterated my view that there should be a delineation of service areas for the two water concessionaries in order to avoid confusion and improve the waste water management in the island. To this, the unsettled issue of which agency, TIEZA or NWRB (National Water Resources Board), shall regulate the water and sewerage systems in Boracay was discussed. They said, this issue remains pending with the Office of the President.

Sen. Trillanes, for his part, inquired wether there is a masterplan for the rehabilitation of Boracay and wether the task force follows a Gantt Chart illustrating the rehabilitation projects to be done (from day 1). He aired his concern that those rehabilitating the island might not be following a plan, while in the meantime the livelihood of thousands of people are being lost every day because of the Boracay closure.

I pointed out that there is no point arguing wether to close the island or not because the island has been closed.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed his view that the exercise of political will is the overriding need in Boracay. Also, based on testimonies, he observed that there is no single body in charge of Managing Boracay, there is a lot of confusion and for each issue, and that different government agencies govern based on their mandates under various national laws. He thus suggested the creation of a single authority, akin to the Subic Bay Management Authority (SBMA), which will have the responsibility of watching over Boracay and will be clothed with sufficient powers to assumes the various powers the national government agencies are exercising now. I suggested the presence of an administrator or a professional manager in the authority to implement the decisions, while permanent official representatives from concerned government agencies, not merely alternates of the Department Secretaries, should sit in the board to hasten the decision-making process of the authority.

Minority Leader Drilon also inquired on the action taken so far taken on Boracay West Cove Resort, whose FlagT (Forestland use Agreement for Tourism Purposes) has been cancelled by DENR in April 2015, but appealed by its owner, Mr. Crisostomo Aquino, to the office of the President. DILG and DENR officials stated that the Boracay West Cove Resort was already being demolished by order of the LGU of Malay and that no Cease and Desist Order (CDO) has been issued from the Office of the President. Sen. Drilon requested the committee to invite Mr. Aquino to the next hearing to shed light on the issue.

Upon inquiry of Sen. Drilon on what are the basic safeguards that will be in place upon the reopening of the island, Usec. Densing of DILG articulated that a soft opening of the island in first week of September is being considered and that the recommended conditions that should be achieved before opening of the island are as follows:

(1) There should be 30 consecutive days that the water coming out of the island should be within SB Standards;

(2) At least 50% of the illegal structures on the wetlands should have been dismantled;

(3) Seventy percent (70%) of the road system and the drainage system being put up by the DPWH should be in place;

(4) One hundred percent (100%) dismantling of those who violated the 25 + 5 easement rule;

(5) Sanitary landfill should have zero wastes;

(6) Reclamation of the five (5) wetlands with structures; and

(7) Solution to the drainage issue

On the issue of sewerage system, Boracay Tubi representative, Mr. Cabrera, stated the task given them by DENR is the rehabilitation of the drainage, the construction of three outfalls located one kilometer away from the shore and the rehabilitation of Logotan Wetland No. 6 Boracay Tubi is also involved in the fabrication of 100 individual modular sewerage treatment facility to equip all their clients, to ensure that they will not be discharging waste water. As to the issue of delineation of service areas, Mr. Cabrera said that there is a hydraulics issue because of the positions of the existing pipelines of Boracay Tubi and Boracay Water and so, there may be difficulty in implementing the delineation immediately. On the other hand, Boracay Water representative, Mr. Santos, stated that they have identified 529 commercial accounts, which they are targeting to be connected to their sewer system, but only 50 of these establishments have so far connected.

Dr. Henry Chusuey, Chairman of the Boracay Foundation, expressed concern over the proposal to place the island under land reform, particularly given the announcement of DAR Usec. Erro that 868 hectares of Boracay will be distributed for agrarian reform. He submitted that Boracay was never used as an agricultural land in recent history and that DAR's initial assessment found only 4 hectares of arable land in the island. He suggested for Senate to instead pass a law giving special emphasis to tourism zone, especially on the allocation of funds for infrastructure. Part of the income of Boracay should be dedicated to the development of the island.

As to the issue of land reform in Boracay, I advised DAR to be cautious in their press releases as there were contradictory and controversial press releases form their department - one day, land reform area is 400 hectares, another day its 15 hectares, and on another day, its 900 hectares, and then there was a press release that they will put top soil on Boracay land to make it fit for agriculture. I further advised DAR to study the figures with LRA and DENR and other concerned government agencies before making pronouncements. The total land area of Boracay is 1,064 hectares - 377 of which is forest land that cannot be converted into agricultural land (unless by an Act of Congress) and therefore cannot be subjected to land reform, while 628 hectares are agricultural lands A & D, with portions of which already titled.

DILG Usec. Densing interjected that the Land reform contemplated by the President is not necessarily "Agrarian reform", but in the context of social justice and equity - that the people of Boracay will have their share in the ownership of the island and benefit from its development as well for we have seen that the people of Boracay have remained poor despite the economic growth in Boracay.

Aklan Governor Miraflores agreesd that, in so far as managing Boracay, a new management system has to be adopted so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated and he will be submitting a position paper on this matter. As to the other matters, he stated the following:

- That Boracay is not suited for agrarian reform

- That rehabilitation works are producing results, particularly on the water quality;

- That as to the road widening, 80% of the road has already been widened;

- That the private sector are cooperating as a good number of the establishments have done self-demonition to give way to the road construction; and

- That an area in mainland Malay has been identified where the illegal and informal settlers of wetlands in Boracay will be relocated

As to the long term plans for Boracay, Governor Miraflores mentioned about improving their two ports, the Caticlan and Cagban, to make them into "all weather ports" that can be used even during habagat season, particularly by workers, as a way of decongestating the island. Hotel establsihments are likewise being encouraged to build staff houses on the mainland.

We have also heard from Greenpeace and Oceana representatives, who reminded that the accountability of officials at the local and national level should not be disregarded.

At today's hearing, we would like to be updated on the progress of the rehabilitation being conducted in Boracay after almost (4) months since its closure on April 26, 2018, and be apprised of the other developments that transpired since our last committee hearing on June 20, 2018.

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