Rebuilding ‘Boracay’ and our islands
The pollution-challenged Boracay is in the news once again. The once-pristine island, with an annual local and foreign visitors estimated at 2 million, was recently described as a ‘cesspool’ by the President.
This presidential declaration was immediately picked up by international and national news wire, and social media of course.
It is understandable why business establishments in the popular world tourist destination are concerned.
That is not enough.
We have this shocking admission from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that “at least 1,000 residential and other structures were on areas categorized as timberland … in about 400 hectares of land not covered by titles issued by a court or by special land use permits and forest land use agreement for tourism purposes.”
That is almost half the size of the 1032 hectare island of Boracay!
It is confounding that 1000 or so structures can mushroom without government permits and clearances. What happened to the regulatory powers and responsibilities that the DENR and the local government units are mandated to perform?
Some authorities looked the other way?
Of course, we know that environmental laws are not given the serious attention they deserve nationwide, but, how were licenses and presumably environmental compliance certificates issued in forest areas in Boracay?
Perhaps, the Environment Ombudsman can start investigating or even Congress, in aid of legislation, as environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Water Code, RA 9003 known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, RA 7160, the Local Government Code, Fisheries Law, as amended by RA 10654, among a plethora of laws, are obviously not implemented.
Stronger accountability measures have to be in place for the state actors and citizens to act as responsible stewards.
We are known to be warm and hospitable people but sadly that same degree of warmth and kindness to other living things are yet to be embedded in our mindset.
The last time this columnist visited the once-pristine Boracay was years ago. I vowed never to return.
It was like being in a metropolitan area with so many establishments and people. One can already see the area’s carrying capacity has been breached.
Water pollution was, as is now, an issue. I remember being told by a Manila-born worker in Boracay that she stopped even dipping her feet in the water after developing skin irritations after swimming.
And, because of unceasing coastal development without planning, fisherfolks were displaced.
Boracay exemplifies the lack of vision, planning, management and implementation of laws happening in many parts of our archipelago including Cebu.
Plastic and water pollution are a menace to our health and the health of the marine habitats and plants and animals, for which we all depend to survive.
Unfortunately, it seems a crisis point has to be reached first before actions to stem the destruction or deterioration of our natural ecosystems take place.
For the citizenry, it is time we let go of the thinking that only government can implement the law. Our Constitution and laws provide measures and remedies for the citizens to resort to, should government authorities fail, neglect or refuses to deliver the essential services such as health, quality of life, environment, due the people.
Critical collaboration with government is key. Our 1987 Constitution is unique as it affirms, recognizes and honors the people’s right to participate in decision-making at all levels.
We should never forget that our Government exists to serve the people. The Constitution, specifically Article II, Section 4 declares that “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.”, and not the other way around, as some in government seem, so erroneously, to think.
Many do not realize that the 1987 Constitution is pro-people, pro-environment, and pro-participation. For the information of those not familiar with these empowering provisions, take the time to read Article XII, ROLE AND RIGHTS OF PEOPLE’S ORGANIZATIONS, and these two sections: Section 15.
The State shall respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.
People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership, and structure.
Section 16. The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making shall not be abridged.
The State shall, by law, facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.
Take note that the Government cannot reduce and curtail “our right to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making.”
It is an empowering provision which forms the basis of my advice to our younger generation that indeed “Sustainability is in our hands.”
Our environmental laws and the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases provide for remedies such as citizen suits and other measures should duty-holders fail to do their mandates.
What is lacking are more assertive citizens to fight for our constitutionally protected rights.
Do you agree with me that rebuilding Boracay and our islands is in our hands?
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