Manila, Philippines – Only about a third of Boracay’s 440 hotels, resorts and inns are ready for the island’s reopening on Oct. 26, according to Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing, although this may still increase as establishments comply with various requirements.
Establishments would be allowed to reopen only if they have connected to the island’s main sewer line or have their own sewage treatment plants and have secured all the required local government and environment permits, Densing said.
Resort and hotel owners have been reluctant to connect to the Boracay water concessionaire’s sewer lines because of the prohibitive cost it entails, as well as the government’s varying pronouncements on what they are required to do.
“It’s possible between 30 [and] 40 percent would open … Oct. 26 might be a soft opening,” Densing said at a Senate hearing on Boracay’s closure.
Low compliance rate
But Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate’s environment and natural resources committee, said the 30 percent compliance figure was too low.
Had she been the President, Villar said she would have resigned out of embarrassment over the low compliance rate.
President Duterte, who ordered Boracay’s closure to tourists for six months so it could be rehabilitated, earlier described the island as a “cesspool.”
“For me as a businessman, it’s not acceptable,” Villar said.
Densing said that while the ideal target was 100 percent, the number of establishments that would be allowed to reopen by Oct. 26 would be determined once the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had collected all documents on the businesses’ compliance with various requirements.
More time needed
“It’s not [in] the interest of everybody to keep Boracay closed … but if they will not comply with the law to make sure the water quality [is] okay, we have to [make] do with 30 percent,” Densing later told reporters.
Nenette Aguirre-Graf, president of the business group Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI), said many business operators needed more time to comply with the requirements of various agencies.
She said BFI had written to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to extend the operation of the government one-stop shop, which processes business permits on the island.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Boracay has also asked for the extension of the shop’s operation to Sept. 15.
“We should be given enough time because we are compliant. But we feel that we are the ones being pressured and punished, said Elena Brugger, the group’s president.
The shop assists business operators in complying with permits required by the DILG, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of Tourism.
Densing said that aside from lacking permits, many establishments had not provided their employees Social Security System and Pag-Ibig benefits.
“This is outside the issue of water. It’s an issue of governance. This is the fault of everybody. That’s why when I start to describe Boracay, it’s a failed governance,” he added.
The mistakes are now being corrected, he said.
The DENR requires all establishments with 50 rooms or more in Boracay to put up their own sewage treatment plants.
But Villar questioned the proposal that the establishments with rooms fewer than 50 should band together to build their own treatment plants, she said.
“You’re giving all the problem to the stakeholders, even the smaller ones, and you impose on them the responsibility of the water provider,” she said.
There should be a better model than this, she added, as she noted that 80 percent of the establishments on Boracay had fewer than 50 rooms.
Fewer than 50 rooms
Graf said Cimatu had allowed hotels with fewer than 50 rooms to connect to a lateral line or sewer line of Boracay Water, instead of having their own sewage treatment plant.
Densing said the government planned to require all establishments without their own sewer treatment plants to connect to sewer lines. But Villar suggested that the small establishments be given a discount.
Business operators on the island need to apply for an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) after Cimatu ordered the suspension of all ECCs so the DENR could “thoroughly reevaluate” compliance with environmental laws and regulations.
The putting up of sewerage treatment plants is one of the measures the DENR requires to ensure that no untreated water reaches the waters of Boracay.
The sewerage treatment plants cost at least P2 million each.