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Boracay closure

OPINION | BIDA-GOCC AND CASINOS IN BORACAY DETRIMENTAL TO AKLANONS, FAVORS DUTERTE CRONIES

BIDA-GOCC AND CASINOS IN BORACAY DETRIMENTAL TO AKLANONS, FAVORS DUTERTE CRONIES
OPINION | SIEGFRED D. DEDURO

The bills pending at the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate, creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) as a GOCC (Government Owned and Controlled Corporation) – is prejudicial to the interest of Aklanons.  House Bill 9826, in substitution of House Bill 6214 of Rep. Paolo Duterte and in consolidation with 9 other House Bills, has been approved in second reading, while Senate Bill No. 1914 counterpart bill of Sen. Cynthia Villar is still pending at the Senate.

The BIDA bills intend to create a GOCC that will control Boracay Island and Barangay Caticlan in mainland Malay where the seaport and new airport is located. The combined population of this area is 40,257 or 67% of the present population of 60,077 (2020) of the Municipality!  This will be a special tourism enclave akin to the authority of special economic zones.

BIDA-GOCC will strip the LGUs of the Province of Aklan and the Municipality of Malay of their regular functions (authority over local and foreign investments, licensing of gaming and tourist operations, control of the natural resources, tourism fees, among others) under the Local Government Code. The LGUs will be left with only their administrative supervision of the barangays under BIDA-GOCC.

Worst of all, the BIDA-GOCC will deprive the LGUs of much-needed locally sourced income that fund social services like provincial and district hospitals. In a meeting of the LGU Malay Stakeholders on July 2018, it was revealed that Boracay accounts for 20% (Php56billion) of the national tourism receipts; 25% of the P2,011,016,309 LGU Aklan Budget and 78.03% of the Php 508,470,083.23 locally sourced income of Malay.

According to a top local official of Aklan, Duterte’s six months closure of Boracay for “rehabilitation” was a cover-up.  The hidden agenda was to eliminate the “eyesores” (poor communities) in the island, in order to reboot it as an elite gambling and tourist destination.  The activities undertaken by the government in closing Boracay for 6 months supports this view.  Hundreds of houses of poor families were demolished.  They were effectively ejected out of the island because the closure deprived them of their source of livelihood.

It was estimated that more than 32,000 workers lost their jobs in the closure of Boracay.  They did not receive enough government assistance and most of them were not able to return to their jobs, especially with the restrictions due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on September 19, 2018 said that the holding capacity (environmentally sustainable population) of the island of Boracay is only 54,945 at any given time, with 19,215 of this figure are foreign and local tourists. Based on the 2018 data (LGU Malay Stake holders Meeting) workers in Boracay before its closure in 2018 was estimated at 50,728. With the current population of Boracay at 32,267 (2020), a huge majority of the local residents will be certainly be ejected.

During Boracay’s closure, most of the business establishments demolished were small and medium size.  Construction of tourist establishments owned by big foreign and local business continued during the closure and until now.

The Villars own Costa de la Vista, a residential condominium development with five high-rise towers. Costa la Vista continued clearing operations of a mountain despite the ban on construction during the closure of the island. In addition to Costa de la Vista, the Villars also own the Boracay Sands Hotel.

The most controversial project is that of giant casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group which plan to develop a casino resort in Boracay, a move which will see the company expanding outside Macau for the first time.

“Galaxy is excited about the possibility of teaming with Leisure and Resorts to develop a world class beach resort for our players in Boracay which was just rated the number one island in the world in 2017 by Conde Nast Traveler readers,” said Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment. He has met with President Duterte on this project. PAGCOR Chairperson Andrea Domingo confirmed that Galaxy was awarded a preliminary license to operate in Boracay.

Galaxy and its partner, Philippines-based Leisure and Resorts World Corp, plan to open a $500m casino in Boracay. “Galaxy would like to play a role in the One Belt One Road initiative and we strongly believe the Philippines has great potential and offers attractive opportunities,” Lui said, referring to China’s economic and diplomatic program to increase trade with countries in the region.

Due to the strong opposition against casinos in Boracay, Duterte tried to hush-hush and defuse popular dissatisfaction over the planned mega-casino, and issued conflicting statements to obfuscate the issue.

During the island’s closure in 2018, DENR Secretary Cimatu, head of the Boracay Inter-agency Task Force in “rehabilitating” the island was barred by security guards from entering the construction site of the Galaxy casino in Barangay Manoc-manoc, Boracay.

The cat is now out of the bag. On August 28, President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed casinos to operate in Boracay Island as part of the government’s revenue-generating efforts to augment funds for its COVID-19 response.  He has given the go-signal for the plans of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and tycoon Andrew Tan to proceed with their plans to put up integrated casino-resort projects in Boracay Island, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).

Tan, in an official statement, said, “We will proceed with our casino project in Boracay Newcoast. We already have several hotels there and we are still building more.  There is also a golf course, the only one in the entire Boracay Island.”

Casinos are used in large-scale money laundering or making “dirty money” (income from illegal sources) legitimate.  It also breeds immoral activities including organized crimes of trafficking, tax evasion, prostitution and bribery.

On August 30, House Minority Leader Bayan Muna Cong. Zarate said, “President Duterte’s announcement regarding casinos is step two in monopolizing the casinos in Boracay using the yet to be enacted BIDA, which would have the power to contract, lease, buy, sell, acquire, own…real property”.

Moreover, Zarate said that the opening of casinos in the island is mainly for fund generation for the 2022 elections, not as a gold mine for the COVID19 response.

Given Duterte’s penchant in raising money thru gaming operations, such as the POGOs (Philippine Overseas Gaming Operations) owned by Chinese gambling lords targeting mainly Chinese high rollers, it is highly probable that POGOs will be allowed to operate in Boracay.

As an elite gambling and tourism resort, ordinary Filipinos will be deprived access to the once pristine and affordable premier tourist destination in the country.

With the GOCC under Malacanang, control of Boracay and Caticlan  will pave the way for Duterte’s cronies’ complete dominance over the area.#

Humanitarian Volunteers Blocked From Entering Boracay

Boracay Island – Twenty-nine volunteer members of the Humanitarian Mission composed of teachers, students and scientists were not permitted to enter the island of Boracay yesterday to bring food relief to the affected residents of the closure.

The humanitarian mission is scheduled from June 29 to July 1 and is the 3rd of the series of missions organized by Friends of Boracay, Rise Up Aklan and We Are Boracay in partnership with the Boracay Christian Church, Bloomfield Integrated Academy and Boracay Island Global Academy. The beneficiaries of the mission are members of We Are Boracay, an alliance of residents and workers of the island.

The mission aims to conduct relief distribution and needs assessment analysis to the residents after two months of the closure following the President’s declaration of the rehabilitation of the island for six months.

According to Kim Sin Tugna of Rise Up Aklan, the food assistance is donated to address the hunger situation of the residents due to loss of livelihood and limited assistance from the government itself.

“Two months after the closure, many residents are feeling the pangs of hunger especially those who remained in the island who are relying on the meager support from the government. The reliefs from private donors could have provided the gap in the food supply for the locals who were displaced from their work,” he added.

Tugna said their team was barred by the Boracay Security Committee.

Rise Up Aklan, headed by Tugna has a standing agreement with the DSWD Regional Office VI Director Rebecca Geamala to conduct enlistment of victims for Disaster Assistance Family Access Card (DAFAC), a requirement needed to provide proper assistance to victims of closure.

Olive Abanera, We Are Boracay coordinator was saddened by the food blockade.

“We have been experiencing hunger for two months now and this food blockade only exacerbates our dire situation,” she said.

Abanera added that their efforts as victims to provide assistance to their hungry members were treated as a security threat by the security committee.

“Is it wrong to feed the hungry? Is it wrong nowadays to struggle for our survival? Why do they consider humanitarian volunteers as security threats? With hundreds of armed police and military personnel deployed in the island, are they hiding something that is why they are blocking our mission volunteers?” questioned Abanera.

“We have been conducting this mission for two rows already and this is the only time our volunteers were blocked. We have followed the protocol and informed the inter-agency task force days ahead of the mission and we were not even informed of the reason of the blockade,” Abanera added.

Tugna also questioned the capacity of the task force to block the mission team.

“This is a legitimate mission and the people are expecting their rice subsidies from their donors. The blockade only highlights what seems to be a “de facto martial law” happening in the island,” said Tugna.

“This is a crime against humanity considering that the island is under a state of calamity and under international protocols, food assistance is highly encouraged during crisis situation,” added Tugna.

“This also violates the freedom of assembly and right to redress and grievance as enshrined by the constitution.”

Feny Cosico, the team leader for the scientist group expresses dismay and outrage over the inhumane treatment of the Boracay security group for the food blockage.

“The scientists have volunteered to take part in the Humanitarian Mission by means of facilitating the Needs Assessment Analysis. This activity is crucial in having an in-depth assessment of the people’s needs apart from providing them their basic needs as food, water and shelter.”

She added that “we want to know their perception and aspiration that have been deprived from them at the start of rehabilitation. We support the rehabilitation of the island but not at the expense of the people. They should be the foremost consideration in the rehabilitation activities as there are the permanent dwellers of the island.”

The scientists also question the comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

“At this point, we see no clear comprehensive rehabilitation plan that includes the participation of all stakeholders specifically the locals who were treated inhumanely with the food blockade of the security. The restoration of the ecological integrity of the island is nowhere near its completion with its target date on October. We have yet to see a comprehensive plan that does not only cover the removal of illegal, but it must include the restoration and preservation of its natural ecosystem.” /PT

Grief in Boracay

 

“Kaya namon nga mga iloy ang kalisod, ang hindi namon kaya ang makita amon onga nga gakalisod.”
(We, mothers, could bear grief, but we cannot bear seeing our children suffer.)
-Ati mother in Boracay
 
The Duterte government single-handedly ordered the closure of Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan province for tourists and non-residents for six months starting April 26, 2018.
Duterte described the island as a ‘cesspool’ and announced rehabilitation and land reform for the island.
Various groups opposed to the closure of the island expressed dismay after Duterte admitted he has no master plan for Boracay. Groups as well questioned the viability of the land reform for the island.

‘No plan, no heart’ in Boracay closure – Kalikasan

ILOILO City – Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) held a picket at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to protest the impending closure of Boracay island. The group said the arbitrary six-month closure had no comprehensive scientific rehabilitation plan but will displace thousands of workers in the process.

“Duterte’s Boracay closure order is like bar-drunk swagger that had no comprehensive, scientific basis and no heart for the 36,000 workers it will displace. His yes men are struggling to come up with rehab, security, and even completely illogical land reform plans, but these cannot justify the full closure of the island. With no comprehensive rehab plan whatsoever, we see Duterte’s closure order will benefit the only Boracay projects that have full plans and in full implementation, the Chinese-backed mega casinos,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The environment group noted that the planned mega casino of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment will be built on an inland forest area of Boracay and still has a provisional permit from the government in effect up to present.

“What kind of environmental rehab plan would allow the conversion of native tree forests into a mega-casino? Despite the Department of Tourism’s claim that Galaxy casino is searching for a new location, locals report the company’s local partners recently continued to acquire land in Boracay. The DILG’s guidelines on the closure do not even include a moratorium for new construction projects which makes the closure order even more suspect,” said Dulce.

NO REHAB PLAN
A Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission (FFSM) was conducted last week by environmental groups and people’s organizations to investigate the circumstances and effects of the impending closure of Boracay on the people. The Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) was among those groups which joined the mission.

“Despite repeated requests by various organizations and even media outfits, President Duterte and the DENR has not yet divulged any plan or paper which details how exactly they are going to embark on rehabilitating the island, or as to why they arbitrarily chose six months as the supposed recovery period. There was not even a public consultation held prior to Duterte’s verbal pronouncements on closing the island. Up to the present, there is still no order or legal basis for the closure.” said Lia Alonzo, a researcher from CEC.

MILITARIZATION OF BORACAY
Kim-Sin Tugna, of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) – Aklan, who was also part of the FFSM, reported that the deployment of 630 fully-armed police only sowed fear and terror among the populace.

“Despite the absence of a writ of eviction, which can only be issued by the courts, the DENR escorted by police forces have been asking residents to leave since their houses were said to be built on wetlands. The residents wondered why they were being evicted now when they have been paying taxes for the land they were occupying. The intimidation of the police in fatigue uniforms and bearing high powered rifles caused fear and panic among the residents. During our public consultation, residents reported to that the police told them that they will ask for the deployment of soldiers and turn Boracay into a ‘new Marawi’ if the residents will resist,” Tugna said.

“Although the rehabilitation of the Boracay is indeed much needed, any move to help the islands heal should also not leave behind the livelihood concerns of the residents who have no other means to earn a decent income in the first place. But with a casino to be built on Boracay’s forest itself, the closure order only reveals that the Duterte regime’s environmental pronouncements are a sham. Moreover, we castigate the Duterte regime for enforcing its arbitrary closure order using draconic and dictatorial methods which only terrorize the people,” Dulce concluded.(panaytoday.net)