From improving air quality to removing rubbish, scum and chemicals from rivers and creeks, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has not just removed the criminal element from the streets but he is overseeing a revival of the beautiful natural environment of The Philippines that has for decades been neglected. When it comes to sustainable environmental preservation, the famed tourist destination that is the island of Boracay is Duterte’s most outstanding environmental success story.
At the beginning of the year, Boracay’s beaches were filled with rubbish and the local ecosystem was on the verge of collapse. A combination of ramshackle non-permitted buildings, local business oligarchs ignoring existing environmental protection laws, too many coal burning burning fires, too many tourists bringing and leaving plastic rubbish and too many overflowing septic tanks threatened to turn a once pristine place of natural beauty into little more than a floating rubbish dump. A genuine glimpse of the horrid state that years of political neglect wrought on Boracay can be derived from TripAdvisor reviews made during the Presidency of the Liberal President Noynoy Aquino as left by foreign tourists, most of whom complained about the filthy on the island.
Some such reviews dating to the time of Noynoy’s Presidency read as follows:
–“This beach stinks, although the pictures look great and it is a great kite surfing spot, the reef is dead and the beach is polluted, what a shame , unfortunately heading the same way as bali. Australia still has the best beaches in the world”. By John from Australia
–“Beach was full of trash. We were there during rainy season (July), and the beach was full of debris and trash. Not the beach to swim or lay out & soak up the sun in Boracay. There are some water activities that depart from this beach, but mostly it is good for kite surfing due to the waves. While this area does offer some fabulous views at the top of the hill, I wouldn’t plan on using this beach for your swimming plans during their rainy season”. By Amanda from the United States
–“Boracay’s ugly half: Although not that ugly, Bulabog beach periphery is enjoying a lot of garbage lately and because this is, now, where most boats park and most water craft operates, you can basically smell gasoline in the water. Sad”. By Zando from Manila
–“Dirty, dirty beach: the beach is beautiful – but totally spoilt by all the trash in the sand and floating in the water. Trying to avoid the broken glass strewn everywhere is also unpleasant.
There are too many boats in the morning, making it impossible to find a place to swim, so you have to walk forever to get to a place where you can enjoy the water – and yet its still dirty”–By username CPR1972 from China.
–“Dirty sand, full of empty soda bottles, french fries packages”. By Charosimon from Argentina
–“Don’t seem like a beach I book a stay by bulabog beach, hoping to get the best view of one of the beach in boracay.. But when I’m there, surprisingly the beach seems like its blocked by boats.. Whole stretch of the beach is blocked.. There’s so much water activities going on.. There’s no space to swim.. The water is not so clean.. Disappointed with that.. I just have to walk about 200 meters to white beach.. Info to others not to stay along bulabog beach, unless you not a fond of the beach”.–By NurHalim from Singapore
–“Filthy beach. This beach is disgusting. Piles of seaweed everywhere along with rubbish and dog crap. This has nothing to offer except watersports that require a breeze”–Gill From Scotland”
These reviews speak to the fact that observers from Asia, Europe, the Americas and Filipinos all had severe criticisms of Boracay prior to Duterte taking office. Something needed to be done but there was simply no political impetus to do so under previous administrations.
It was because of this that President Duterte took the bold decision to totally close the island for an environmental rehabilitation initiative after which only a limited number of both businesses and tourists would be allow to return. While Boracay is now partly open to both Filipinos and tourists, much has changed.
Duterte has limited the number of hotels allowed and operate on the island, thus bringing black-market lodgings firmly under control where once they plagued the landscape. Furthermore, where prior to last year’s shut down many businesses allowed raw sewage to simply spill into the sea, Duterte will not allow any business to operate unless connected to fully functional local sewer lines or else they much have certified internal treatment facilities.
Duterte has banned the use of coal burning cookouts on the beach while the island will also no longer be available for pig and chicken farmers. Eating, drinking alcohol and smoking on the beech is now prohibited as are loud music concerts, fire dancers and beach front electric lighting. As part of the gradual programme to re-open the island, all water sports including diving will be temporarily prohibited off the beaches of Boracay.
Under previous administrations, Boracay became not only a tourist trap but an environmental death trap. There are few more beautiful places in the world than the small and medium sized islands off the costs of the main islands that comprise The Philippines. But if the environmental degradation were allowed to continue, not only would tourists stop coming, but far more worryingly for the long term future, the natural environment that survived three colonial occupations would not have been able to survive the greed of business oligarchs and both the Liberal and Communist groups who opposed Duterte’s closure of Boracay.
Visitors from around the world will once again be welcomed back to Boracay but the island will be transformed from a place of excess to one of respect. Just as one would not ride a motorcycle across the Great Wall of China, host a gangsta rap festival outside of the Taj Mahal or chop down the historic redwoods of America’s national parks for firewood, so too will Boracay become a place to be observed for its natural beauty rather than a place to litter with raw sewage, plastics and burnt out coals.
Duterte’s recent passage of universal healthcare for Filipinos combined with his steadfast measures to prevent the degradation of the environment are further signs that Duterte’s Presidency represents a watershed moment for future generations of Filipinos. Rather than seek short term solutions to long standing problems, Duterte seeks and has steadily achieved success for the people by applying sustainable long term problem solving initiatives that guarantee a steadily advancing state of the nation for decades to come.
Boracay was once a great man-made disaster which blighted natural beauty. Now the balance has been restored in a triumph of ecology over ego – a triumph of common sense over oligarchic greed.