POSTSCRIPT / April 17, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Boracay awaiting master rehab plan

BORACAY island, a national treasure in danger of losing its allure because of decades of abuse, is still waiting for a master rehabilitation plan — while a confused administration jumps from one idea to another.

Since Feb. 9, when President Rodrigo Duterte announced in Davao City that Boracay has become a “cesspool” and must be closed for cleanup, there has been a flurry of confusing, sometimes alarming, statements on what government plans to do.

Concern has been raised about the rules, issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, imposing “No ID-No entry” restrictions on non-residents, including media covering activities on the 1,032-hectare island off Malay town in Aklan province.

The restrictions have been assailed as infringing on press freedom and the right of citizens to reasonable access to public areas. The requirement to carry officially issued IDs to move from one’s home-island to another island looks objectionable on its face.

While non-residents and illegal businesses are being driven out, their structures being demolished, preparations are under way for the putting up of a casino-resort by a Macau-based operator – pending Duterte’s making up his mind on the $500-million investment offer.

The casino plan is widely expected to proceed — after the proponent Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. was given a provisional license on March 21 and Malacañang released photos of Galaxy executives and their local associates being received by the President.

Leisure and Resorts World Corp., Galaxy’s local partner, said they have acquired 23 hectares of land in Barangay Manoc-Manoc as site for the casino project. It was not clear if they bought, leased, or whatever they did, to be able to use the state-owned property.

After policy and legal loose ends were pointed out in media and in the Cabinet itself, the President shifted gear again. The last time he blurted out something about Boracay, it was about dropping the casino idea and turning over the island to farmers under a land reform scheme. But we think that was not his last word on the matter.

Duterte must have been told, belatedly, that under a Supreme Court decision in October 2008, the island of Boracay is owned by the state. The ruling resolved the dispute over the ownership claims of several resort developers.

In its ruling penned by then Associate Justice Ruben Reyes (now retired), the tribunal said the owners of resorts fronting the shoreline were merely “builders in good faith” because the area is a forestland that cannot be privatized.

The SC said that the continued possession and considerable investment of the private claimants do not automatically give them a vested right to the land, nor give them a right to apply for a title to the land they occupied.

Asked in a media interview in Hong Kong, after his attending last week the Boao Forum on Asia, about his master rehabilitation plan for Boracay, Duterte said he had none.

Judging from his continually changing pronouncements and his underlings’ disagreements, it is obvious there is no master plan for Boracay whose closure will render some 36,000 persons jobless and deprive the government and private business billions of pesos in foregone revenue.

Initially, Duterte was talking of closing Boracay for one year, later cutting that period to six months on advice of a three-department Cabinet cluster. But lately one of them, the Department of Tourism, is recommending four months.

Another one in the trio, the DILG, has issued guidelines that raised civil rights and other legal questions – as well as concerns that the administration may be toying with the idea of a micro police state sort of situation on Boracay.

• DILG entry rules for Boracay hit

SOME of the controversial DILG rules to be imposed upon the April 26 closure of Boracay:

>No ID, no entry – “Residents/workers/resort owners will be allowed entry into the island subject to the presentation of identification cards specifying a residence in Boracay. All government-issued IDs will be recognized. Non-government IDs are acceptable as long as they are accompanied by a barangay certification of residency.”

>One condition for entry. — “No visitors of Boracay residents shall be allowed entry, except under emergency situations, and with the clearance of the security committee composed of DILG representative, police, and local government officials.”

>Journalists need permission to cover. – “Media will be allowed entry subject to prior approval from the Department of Tourism, with a definite duration and limited movement.”

>One entry, one exit point. – “There will only be one transportation point to Boracay island.” (We assume this will be the jetty port in Caticlan.)

These restrictions, imposed without adequate consultation with the sectors affected, have raised concern, giving as they do hints of martial law. Challenges before the Supreme Court can be expected.

Does the need for IDs showing one’s island of residence mean that citizens are now to be restricted from freely moving to an island that is not their island-of-residence?

In the absence of a nationwide ID system, one can imagine the monstrous administrative complications, with people rushing to get IDs from their…(from whom?). Btw, does the rule refer to legal residence?

The DILG rules must not be discriminatory, so must apply to all islands and all their residents. Will Rodrigo Duterte, a legal resident of Davao City on Mindanao island, need permission or an ID when he goes to Luzon or any island outside Mindanao? This may sound stupid; it is.

The DILG says non-government IDs will be acceptable if the bearer also has a certification of residency from his barangay! Dios co!

Then, the DILG says media members will have to get permission to cover from the Department of Tourism! Secretary Martin Andanar, Sir, what’s going on?

But the biggest question is: What is the Duterte administration hiding on Boracay?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 17, 2018)

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