BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan -- BESIEGED with a variety of problems and beleaguered from all fronts by debilitating issues, business leaders and residents of this tourism paradise on Monday called on presidential candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. to take notice of their predicament and help them get back on their feet once he wins the 2022 elections.
Popular for its picturesque white sand beaches and sky blue waters, Boracay Island is the country’s top tourist destination and a major revenue earner.
According to the Department of Tourism, the island attracts more than two million visitors and generated a staggering P56 billion in revenue before the pandemic.
However, beneath the captivating beauty and magical splendor of Boracay lies a can of worms that eats within the system, that slowly erodes the ecological balance of the island, and damages the way of life of the inhabitants so much so that the incumbent government Duterte decided to shut down its operations and placed it under a “state of calamity” some two years ago.
The government’s urgent implementation of measures to address the problem, although done in good faith, caused a cacophony of allegations ranging from corruption to illegal displacements that strained the relationship of the people of Boracay with the national and local government.
Then comes the pandemic.
This one-two punch overwhelmed the once dreamy-eyed inhabitants and suicide rate, which was never heard of before, became a dreadful phenomena.
In the words of businesswoman Elena Tosco, “only one died from Covid, but at least 14 perished from ‘lubid’ (a colloquial reference to rope, which was often used by a person who commits suicide).”
“There are social injustices and there were people and businessmen who were displaced here. These problems were aggravated by the pandemic. In general, everyone here were affected and the way things are going right now only someone with political will who understands our plight can help us rise from our predicaments,” said businesswoman Elena Tosco.
Tosco said some of the reasons for the suicides were unemployment, strained family relations, and depression, among others.
But among the most contentious issues were the report of an impending take-over of the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA).
“We are looking at these developments in the island and the May elections that will decide who will be our next leader would be very crucial to who we are and what we are doing here,” Tosco said.
“Whoever can give us the assurance that the rights that we have been fighting for will be heard — no one will be displaced, the issue of the power of imminent domain, the continuous demolitions without relocations – these things are what triggered us to look for someone who can help us, and by all indications Mr. Marcos is in a position to win,” said local broadcaster Allan Palma.
Palma said they closely monitored the other candidates’ stand on the matter and “they want to hear categorically what Marcos will have to say, because from the looks of it he doesn’t want people to be displaced and he doesn’t want businesses to shut down.”
Asked what is needed to settle the issue, Tosco said, “There is a need for a government policy based on science and a cadastral map and correct technical description that would lead to titling of properties.”
A cadastral map is a general land administrative tool, which has no real legislative basis and often created to be used by a broad range of people for all manner of things including real estate sales, valuation, and planning.
Palma said 98.5% of the people in Boracay, including the Tumandaks, who are the original settlers, have no land titles and could easily be displaced on whims and caprices of the people in power.
The recent strict implementation of health protocols has also become a major irritant now that the island is slowly opening up its doors to tourists.
He said the snail-paced registration in ports could have been easily addressed by the presentation of vaccination cards and other necessary documents instead of holding the tourists and travelers in long lines just to fill up “useless forms.”
In the end, the stakeholders said they wanted to heed Mr. Marcos’ call to unite “but we want to start here in Boracay because we are sitting on a very volatile situation which could lead to the loss of our businesses and properties.”