By Jonathan L. Mayuga, April 29 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Philippine Star

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is working on a draft administrative  order that will declare the entire island of Boracay and its surrounding waters a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA), one of the strategies identified to effectively enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 2004.

The CWA (Republic Act 9275) specifies the designation of certain areas as WQMA using appropriate physiographic units such as watershed, river basins or water resources regions. Declaring the entire Boracay as a WQMA will help protect the island’s surrounding waters against pollution, as well as its remaining wetlands, from further degradation.

This even as Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the pollution-challenged Boracay Island in the Municipality of Malay, Aklan, keeps getting better a year after undergoing rehabilitation.

A Policy and Planning Technical Working Group is currently working on a draft administrative order that will place the world-renowned tourist spot under strict management regime, the top biodiversity official of the DENR told the BusinessMirror.

Crisanta Marlene P. Rodriguez, the chief of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), said that the Policy and Planning Technical Working Group headed by Director Lourdes Ferrer of the DENR’s Policy and Planning Service has been holding meetings for the purpose.

Rodriguez even suggested to the DENR-BMB to help craft the administrative order to integrate some of the salient provisions of the proposed Boracay Critical Habitat. This, however, was stalled by the inaction of the Sangguniang Bayan of Malay on the required resolution endorsing the conservation measure to the DENR.

A conservation measure under RA 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, critical habitats are portions of land outside protected areas that have known habitats of threatened endemic species.

These areas are usually small, focusing on one or a few species, like Boracay, which has experienced an alarming drop in the number of fruit bats and insect bats, and visiting migratory birds because of habitat loss and unsustainable tourism practices.

To date, there are only six DENR-declared Critical Habitats by virtue of DENR administrative orders, namely:

1. Adams Wildlife Critical Habitat (AWCH) in Mounts Magnas, San Miguel and Linao in the Municipality of Adams, Ilocos Norte;

2. Carmen Critical Habitat in the coastal barangays of Vinapor, Gosoon, San Agustin, Cahayagan and Tagcatong, in the Municipality of Carmen, province of Agusan del Norte;

3. Malasi Tree Park and Wildlife Sanctuary Critical Habitat in Barangay San Antonio, Cabagan, Isabela;

4. Cabusao Wetland Critical Habitat in Barangays Pandan and Biong, Cabusao, Camarines Sur;

5. Rafflesia schadenbergiana Critical Habitat at Sitio Kalanganan, Barangay San Vicente, Baungon, Bukidnon; and

6. Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, which covers the so-called lagoons of Parañaque and Las Piñas, also a wetland of international importance or Ramsar Site.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development has also established the Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat in the island of Palawan.

Rodriguez told the BusinessMirror that by declaring Boracay a WQMA, it will undergo strict management regime to be implemented by various stakeholders that will encompass needed measures for the protection of Boracay’s critical habitats, like the roosting sites of Boracay’s fruit bats—particularly limestone forests and cave-dwelling insect bats.

In a statement, Cimatu said much has changed in Boracay since the government started the rehabilitation.

“I am happy that we are able to sustain the gains we achieved since we reopened in October last year,” Cimatu said on April 26, exactly one year since the resort island was closed to the public for six months to pave the way for its rehabilitation from serious environmental damage.

Cimatu, who heads the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) in charge of the island’s rehabilitation, said the coliform level in Boracay waters “has significantly gone down,” based on the latest water-quality monitoring done by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau.

The environment chief noted that the highest coliform level recorded was only 40 most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100 ml). The safe level is 100 mpn/100 ml for Class SB water that is suitable for swimming, skin diving and other recreational activities.

He also reported that there had been “no algae year-round,” indicating that “it is really the dirty water which is causing what used to be a natural occurrence.”

Cimatu said the entire stretch of Boracay’s White Beach is already safe for swimming, and he was hoping the Bulabog Beach, which is now solely used for water sports, will also be declared “swimmable” soon.

So far, Cimatu said 51 establishments along the White Beach have their own sewage-treatment plants while others are now connected to the sewer line. Forty-two establishments in other areas of the island opted to have their own STPs, he added.

Cimatu said demolition orders have been served to establishments violating the 25+5 meter-easement rule along the White Beach and Bulabog Beach and almost all of them chose to self-demolish. Those who violated the 12-meter road easement were also ordered to remove their illegal structures.

He added that the construction of the Circumferential Road will continue.

“Last year, it would take tourists an hour to reach their hotels because of traffic congestion,” Cimatu said. “Now it would only take 20 minutes because of the paved and cleared roads.”

At present, the road from Cagban Port to Hue hotel is now 95-percent finished; Hue Hotel to the Elizalde property is 95-percent done, and what is called the Missing Gap is also 95-percent completed.

Plans are also underway to make Cagban Jetty Port an all-year-round port. Previously, it was only used during the dry season from November to April as an alternate to Tagbisaan Jetty Port, which is used during the wet season from May to October.

Despite these achievements, Cimatu said more needs to be done for Boracay to ensure its sustainability as a world-class ecotourism destination.

“Although we have reopened Boracay to global tourism, the rehabilitation of Boracay is not yet complete and remains a work in progress,” he added. “What we have accomplished thus far has earned commendations, but building sustainability requires time as well as the continuing support of the people of Boracay.”