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Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu. (Photo: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Photo)

Boracay residents appeal to Secretary Cimatu

Ed JavierIt was the best island in the world in 2012, according to the prestigious international travel magazine Travel + Leisure. 

And even in 2014, this tiny emerald resort island called Boracay in the province of Aklan was at the top of the Best Islands in the World list published by the international magazine Condé Nast Traveler.

In 2016, Boracay still topped the magazine’s list of Top 10 destinations to watch.

Yes, we are proud of this jewel of an island that has received awards from numerous travel publications and agencies.

According to the Malay, Aklan Municipal Tourism Office, a record-high 1.7 million tourists flocked to Boracay Island in 2016, beating the official target for the world-famous Philippine island resort.

It is something to crow about. Even with its increasing population of residents and visitors combined, Boracay continues to attract both local and foreign tourists. And it seems to show no signs of abating as the summer season in temperate countries begin.

Its white beaches particularly the world famous White Beach remain the best in the world. People go to Boracay to relax. To have fun. For tranquility, and yes, a contradiction in experience, for an amazing nightlife.

But what’s happening to this small but precious island in the Philippines located just 315 km (196 mi) south of Manila and 2 kilometers off the northwest tip of Panay Island in Western Visayas?

When we were there a few weeks ago, we can only find one word to accurately describe the place, TEEMING.

Teeming means: be full of, or swarming with. And Boracay was literally teeming with people.

One cannot even take a photograph of its world famous sunset without a crowd of people photobombing your hastily taken shot. You literally have to work through a swath just to get a clear shot.

Be that as it may, one can live with it. Crowds do bring a sense of vibrancy to a place. Makes it alive and dynamic.

But the issue of illegal squatters sprouting like mushrooms in the island is another matter altogether. It seems squatting in the island have gotten worse over the years.

Now, government initiatives to promote the island as a first-class tourist destination are now being threatened by these organized groups functioning like squatter syndicates.

Local residents we interviewed during our visit said that these groups illegally and forcibly occupy unmonitored available land space.

In several instances, armed men claim to be the owners of the property but can’t show any proof of ownership.

Some individuals also occupy forestland areas and it seems the government, particularly the DENR- Provincial Environment Officer ( PENRO) of Aklan, is not doing anything to stop it.

For example: The DENR regional office 6 directed the DENR-PENRO of Aklan to take action against a certain group which illegally occupied a timberland/forestland area in Barangay Manoc-manoc in Boracay island.

Then DENR Region 6 Officer-in-Charge Jesse Vego, in a memorandum dated April 18, 2016 directed the DENR -Penro of Aklan to advise the group to vacate the said forestland or they will be charged for illegal occupation of the area under Presidential Decree 705.

More than a year after the directive was issued, we were informed by Manoc-Manoc residents that this group has not vacated the forested areas under the jurisdiction of the DENR.

According to the them, because of the open defiance of this group against the DENR order, more individuals are now copying the illegal squatting scheme.

They are now asking the assistance of DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to address this issue because this is already affecting the influx of tourists in Boracay.

You see, squatters are not just eyesores in this island paradise. They also have an adverse effect on business.

We personally know Secretary Cimatu and his simple but effective leadeship style. We are sure he will not allow Boracay to be transformed into a squatters haven.

A booming Boracay is already straining Boracay’s ecosystem. What to do, so that it will remain the lovely island paradise is the biggest challenge to Secretary Cimatu.

We have heard of a land use proposal that will convert Boracay into a high-end tourism area. This will surely reduce the pressure on Boracay and induce low-density development.

Whatever the government and Boracay’s stakeholders do, let it not be said that we just sat and watched as Boracay marched inexorably into its demise.

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