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

Cimatu should not allow Boracay to be a squatters haven

Boracay, a small island in the province of Aklan is a favorite destination of domestic and international tourists primarily because of its pristine white sand beaches.

It has been named the best beach in Asia and second best in the world by several travel sites and an international travel magazine. Aside from local tourists, Europeans, Koreans, Americans, Japanese, Chinese tourists are normally seen visiting the island.

But government initiatives to promote the island as a first-class tourist destination are now being threatened by the massive violation of our environmental laws.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to close Boracay.

The President said: “I will close Boracay. Boracay is a cesspool. You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smell of what? Shit. Because it all comes out in Boracay,” The President warned the situation was a looming environmental “disaster” and a “tragedy” that could soon drive visitors away from the island.

He ordered Department of Environment and Natural Resources ( DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to clean up Boracay or else. “I’ll give you six months. Clean the goddamn thing,” he said he had told Cimatu.

Cimatu acknowldeged that the task seems impossible but promised to solve the environmental problems in Boracay. However, in addition to solving these gargantuan environmental tasks, Cimatu should also look at another major problem in Boracay.

We heard that because of its pricy real estate value province-based organized groups functioning like syndicates are now threatening Boracay.

We saw on television how squatters sprouted like mushrooms in the island. It seems squatting in the island have gotten worse over the years.

Government initiatives to promote the island as a first-class tourist destination are now not only being threatened by commercial establishments openly defying our sanitary laws but also by these organized groups functioning like squatter syndicates.

According to local residents these groups illegally and forcibly occupy unmonitored available land and even water space. Armed men claiming to be the owners of some property in Boracay but can’t show any proof of ownership have been putting up illegal structures in the area.

Some members of this illegal groups are reportedly harassing the legitimate owners of some properties Cimatu should not allow these to happen. He should protect legitimate businessmen and not allow local gangsters to frighten off investors.

Some armed groups also occupy forestland and wetland areas in Boracay and it seems the DENR- Regional and Provincial officials are not doing anything to stop it.

For example: According to DENR documents, a certain group which illegally occupied a timberland/forestland area in Barangay Manoc-manoc in Boracay island is still occupying the area despite the fact that they were already ordered to vacate the said forestland or they will be charged for illegal occupation of the area under Presidential Decree 705.

The order was issued by the DENR last April 18, 2016. Sadly, more than two years 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.

In fact, according to them, the number of structures and illegal settlers occupying the area has more than tripled.

Squatters are not just eyesores in this island paradise. They also have an adverse effect on business. Cimatu should not allow them to stay in forestland areas and should enforce the order issued by his Department. You see, because of the open defiance of this group against the DENR order, more individuals copied the illegal squatting scheme.

We do not want to believe in this story, but talks are rife in the island that these groups may be in cahoots with some officials of the DENR. According to some residents, a simple aerial survey of the entire island will show how these groups have occupied restricted areas in Boracay.

We are sure that once Secretary Cimatu finds out, he will not tolerate these violations. We are saddened by these developments considering that the island was adjudged as 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.

A record-high 2.1 million tourists flocked to Boracay Island in 2017 compared to the 1.7 million visitors in 2016. Over $1 Billion in revenues is also generated from Boracay annually. Cimatu should address this issue soonest because this is already affecting the influx of tourists in Boracay.

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 and will do his best so that Boracay will remain the lovely island paradise. The President has already spoken. The ball is now in your court, Mr. Secretary.

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