Boracay Closure from a Malaynon’s Viewpoint: How It’s Affecting the Locals and What Can Be Done to Minimize the Negative Tourism Impacts | rich'nritch.com

Boracay Closure from a Malaynon’s Viewpoint: How It’s Affecting the Locals and What Can Be Done to Minimize the Negative Tourism Impacts

The serene look of Boracay white beach accentuated by an array of coconut trees after two months of closure.
The serene look of Boracay white beach accentuated by an array of coconut trees after two months of closure.

Boracay is every tourist’s dream destination popularly known as an “island paradise.” Not known to all, Boracay is not a town or a city but a small island composed of three barangays namely Manocmanoc, Balabag, and Yapak. It is a part of the municipality of Malay with 14 other barangays in the mainland, one of which is the barangay of Argao where I and my family reside. Argao is mainly coastal and my house is situated few meters away from the shoreline facing the 7-kilometer beach, aptly called White Beach. Every time I step out from the door of my hut, I get to see the entire stretch of Boracay’s front beach. At day time, the sand is strikingly white and at night time, the place is filled with party lights. Many people call it is an ‘island that never sleeps.” Several steps away from my door, sailboats or “paraw” are docked for the night and every morning, boatmen come with their big ropes to either fix them or sail them to Boracay’s shore. Aboard a sailboat are one captain and two or three crews. Normally, it takes them only 15 minutes (with strong wind) or 30 minutes (without wind) as the boat doesn’t have an engine and only depends on its sail. For locals like us, taking a ride is free and we get to be docked right at the front beach of either Station 1 or 3. Paraw sailing is a popular water activity for foreign tourists and also my personal favorite. The outgoing chairman of the MASBOI (Malay Association of Sailboat Owners Incorporated), Mannie P. Casidsid (now the barangay captain of Argao), is my cousin and many of the boatmen are my relatives so often, I get to talk to them. Their monthly individual income is, in fact, way higher than the amount teacher receives. It is a common knowledge for Malaynons that boatmen for both paraws and pumpboats, tour guides and operators, travel agents, and commissioners who work in the island and live in the mainland are high earners. They come home with a minimum of Php500.00 and a maximum of Php2,000.00 plus tips everyday. Tourism activities in my town have lifted the standard of living of many local workers. It can be observed in their house constructions and improvements, daily groceries, food preferences, acquisition of properties like motorcycles and tricycles, and education of their children. There are some who even managed to put up businesses out of their income.

Locals hitching a ride from Argao's beach to Boracay Island
Locals hitching a ride from Argao's beach to Boracay Island
An array of sailboats docked at Station 1, waiting for tourists to hire them for an island tour or an island hopping activity.
An array of sailboats docked at Station 1, waiting for tourists to hire them for an island tour or an island hopping activity
Sunset is one of the best sights in Boracay and sunset sail is a top tourist activity
Sunset is one of the best sights in Boracay and sunset sail is a top tourist activity.

When Boracay got closed last April 26, 2018, things abruptly changed. The quality of life of many people in my area deteriorated, creating a domino effect. Suddenly, life became a struggle. The cheerfulness, motivation, and positive vibe dissipated. Smiles turned to sorrow. My front beach became lonely. The truth finally dawned on me, us. 

Apparently, Boracay’s tourism pursuit was taken to an extreme where our community and nearby localities developed an overdependence on tourism. This total reliance on tourists to provide income for the locals makes it difficult for us, Malaynons, to bear the closure for two months now. But if you ask me if Boracay should be closed or not, despite of our current situation, I would still choose to say yes. Why? Because for a very long time, a reasonable balance between the positive and the negative impacts of tourism industry in the island was not maintained. As much as there were numerous gains, the negative economic, socio-cultural, and environmental impacts overpowered the benefits we reaped from engaging in tourism. Such situation was very threatening to the future of the island and to us - its people.

An aerial shot of Boracay Island captured during our helicopter ride last September 2017.
An aerial shot of Boracay Island captured during our helicopter ride last September 2017
The tiny stretch of sand composing the Station 1, 2, and 3, aptly called White Beach.
The tiny stretch of sand composing the Station 1, 2, and 3, aptly called White Beach.
Another aerial shot showing closely the concrete structures and high-rise buildings scattered all over the island.
Another aerial shot showing closely the concrete structures and high-rise buildings scattered all over the island.

Even with employment being a gain, underemployment and other employment distortion flooded the island. BSHRM graduates ended up on food serving, housekeeping, bartending, massaging, and kitchen jobs. BST graduates landed on tour guiding and escorting, ticketing, cashiering, and assisting jobs. College graduates, in general, got jobs lower than their degree because of little experience and no job openings. 

There was a huge increase in government revenues because of entrance fees and tax remittances but the cost of infrastructure such as roads, terminals, bridges, and air and sea ports got a big chunk from the budget. Maintenance of the infrastructure posed a big challenge as daily operations of different sectors like transportation and accommodation cannot be suspended due to tourism demand. Monitoring and implementation of laws and tourism policies turned out of hand due to the influx of investors, private sectors, and migrant workers. The island became a center of trade and corruption was a part of the game. Substandard and illegal structures were everywhere.

Ongoing repair and widening of Balabag main road. Buildings adjusted their structures to give way for the widening of the main road.
Ongoing repair and widening of Balabag main road. Buildings adjusted their structures to give way for the widening of the main road.
One of the demolished buildings near the front beach at Station 1 with a man sitting at the corner.
One of the demolished buildings near the front beach at Station 1 with a man sitting at the corner.
Workers taking their break from laying pipes in the premises of a formerly-crowded D’mall in Station 2.
Workers taking their break from laying pipes in the premises of a formerly-crowded D’mall in Station 2.
The everyday construction scene in Bolabog road.
The everyday construction scene in Bolabog road.
Ongoing road construction in Bolabog beach.
Ongoing road construction in Bolabog beach.
A woman with a kid walking past demolished structures by the road.
A woman with a kid walking past demolished structures by the road.

There was an increased knowledge and appreciation for other cultures among locals due to constant interaction with tourists but at the same time, traditions and values of Boracaynons/Malaynons/Akeanons slowly died and innate culture was lost. Social crimes such as gambling, drugs, excessive drinking, and theft exponentially increased. Security and safety became a concern for locals and visitors alike. 

Environmental preservation and conservation efforts and eco-tourism practices were implemented but were defeated by overcrowding, traffic congestion, pollution, insufficient solid waste management, illegal construction, damage to natural landscapes (agricultural and forestal lands turned to commercial and building spaces), intrusion into the natural habitats of wildlife, and at some point, destruction of the marine life. The locals who used to be able to access the beautiful beaches were no longer allowed to enter the premises because of the privacy policy of some exclusive coastal resorts. The construction of big hotels and resorts altered the natural landscapes, seascapes, and terrains to make way for more amenities and facilities. Some trees that were home to indigenous birds and monkeys were cut to make room for the development. Flooding was a common scenario in roads and beaches. Sewerage was a big mess.

The usual maddening crowd in the front beach at sunset during holy week.
The usual maddening crowd in the front beach at sunset during holy week.
One of the private beaches in the island that is only accessible through Fairways and Bluewater Resort (as far as I know).
One of the private beaches in the island that is only accessible through Fairways and Bluewater Resort (as far as I know).

These and many others are enough reasons for a Malaynon like me to vote in favor of the temporary closure. My endearing hope is that the closure will give way for the sustainable tourism development practice to be in place. If it will not happen, I would still consider the six-month closure as a resting-time for the island paradise and in one way or another, there’s always a positive impact in it. Besides, the national government cannot be stopped from rehabilitating the island. So instead of putting efforts to block them, why don’t we help mitigate the closure’s impacts?

Buildings undergoing renovations in Station 1
Buildings undergoing renovations in Station 1
Nearly deserted front beach near Station 1
Nearly deserted front beach near Station 1

Taken for example, the officials of the MASBOI and boat owners started to conduct feasibility checks in country’s top destinations like Palawan, Cebu, Sipalay, Dumaguete, Siquijor, and Bohol. Weeks ago, they have sold three units of sailboat in El Nido, Palawan and this week, they are moving 10 sailboats and 30 crews to Baclayon, Bohol after building partnerships with resort owners and other investors in the island province. As of this writing, they have already Chinese guests booked in advance. They have been taking efforts to help their family survive the next four months not only depending on the Php15,000 assistance the government is granting them. What my cousin foresee after the rehabilitation is that the number of tourists and tourism activities will be regulated based on the ‘carrying capacity’ of Boracay Island. Thus, it will likely limit the number of sailboats allowed to operate so they are taking actions now to minimize the severe impact. 

Undeniably, the tourism destination sector is greatly affected especially the host communities (particularly tumandoks), local business owners, migrant workers, and other people living off the commerce in the island. The closure brought myriad problems yet to be resolved causing many concerned people to doubt the national government’s rehabilitation plan. I agree that it is people’s right to demand for the detailed and comprehensive action plan for Boracay. The government has also to address the issues of livelihood, land tenurial claims and corporate greed. I appeal to the government to consult the residents for concerns that directly affect them. Boracay local residents should be part of the rehabilitation task force. I support my fellow Malaynons to continue these cries but at the same time, I encourage everyone to be part of the solution.

Towering coconut trees in Boracay beach and a peek of Willy’s Rock partially submerged during high tide
Towering coconut trees in Boracay beach and a peek of Willy’s Rock partially submerged during high tide.
A picturesque way of capturing Boracay beach is with coconut trees, white sand, and crystal clear water in it.
A picturesque way of capturing Boracay beach is with coconut trees, white sand, and crystal clear water in it.

To future-proof Boracay’s beauty, we need to join hands together to meet the clear and major goals of the closure and the challenge of sustainability that will come after. As a local, I see how we, as a community, have been fighting against starvation and showing resilience in dealing with the difficult conditions. I am confident that we can survive the remaining four months and not spoil everything again.

Coconut trees braving the habagat monsoon
Coconut trees braving the habagat monsoon
Turquoise water of Boracay beach
Turquoise water of Boracay beach
This is what is left of Boracay front beach at Station 1 during high tide on habagat season
This is what is left of Boracay front beach at Station 1 during high tide on habagat season.

This time, it should be ensured that the gains and benefits should outweigh the negative effects brought by tourism activities. Community-based tourism planning and adapting protective and conservative practices should again be studied to create a framework of sustainability that is applicable to the island targeting its weak points. Locals should be empowered in organizing environmental efforts and be prioritized to undergo human capacity building through skills acquisition and upgrading, livelihood training, and upgrading of educational attainment for them to battle underemployment and abuse.

Locals walking by the beach at dusk time.
Locals walking by the beach at dusk time.
A man walking his bicycle in the beach of Station 3
A man walking his bicycle in the beach of Station 3

As a teacher, a traveler, a volunteer, a tourism promotion services NCII instructor, and most importantly, a Malaynon, the following are my humble recommendations for our community:

  1. The youth should regard tourism not only as a livelihood of their parents or family members but an opportunity to make them as future key players of the industry. They should consider pursuing career paths in tourism and hospitality industries and other tourism-related professions that will ensure them good-paying jobs. They should equip themselves skills needed for the industry at a young age. They should aspire to be future entrepreneurs, managers, and employers in the island or mainland.
  2. The schools should increase students’ knowledge of the presence, influence, and impacts of tourism in their lives and in the community as a whole. They should raise students’ level of awareness for environmental preservation and conservation efforts and awaken their consciousness on sustainable tourism development. They should demonstrate and practice solid waste management and promote responsible tourism.
  3. The barangays and communities through the help of LGU and NGOs should adapt a sustainable livelihood program in agriculture as an alternative livelihood or source of food when tourism slows down. They must encourage members of the community to engage in backyard gardening.
  4. The LGU should consider conceptualizing a plan to boost agriculture industry in the mainland to serve as a partner industry of tourism in the island. I hope each barangay in the mainland will have its banner product that can supply a reasonable percentage of supply to island’s needs especially to the accommodation/hospitality sector that caters food to the tourists. 
  5. All sectors of Boracay’s tourism should work together not to give up our innate culture to the culture of the visitors. Instead, we should have a stronger sense of “self” and preserve our own traditions and practices. I hope we can offer tourists an experience that speaks of our own identity as Malaynon.

I believe all these are important factors to keep tourism industry alive in Malay for the benefit of the future generation.

One of the annual efforts of the LGU is the celebration of Boracay Day highlighting activities that raise level of awareness for preservation and conservation especially among the youths.
One of the annual efforts of the LGU is the celebration of Boracay Day highlighting activities that raise level of awareness for preservation and conservation especially among the youths.
Posing a photo with my TPS (Tourism Promotion Services) NCII students in front of my beach hut in Argao before our island tour via sailboat in Boracay sponsored by my French world-traveler friend, Yael Pericard.
Posing a photo with my TPS (Tourism Promotion Services) NCII students in front of my beach hut in Argao before our island tour via sailboat in Boracay sponsored by my French world-traveler friend, Yael Pericard.

Disclaimer: I am not an economist but I believe I have ideas to share that may be of contribution to my community as I have learned them from traveling to nearly 40 provinces in the country and observing different tourism practices and policies they have adapted. Also, as a teacher I find the need to generate local content that may be of help to the consciousness and understanding of my students in tourism promotion services NC II.   

About the Author

ritchel's picture
Ritch is a teacher who works full-time on weekdays, travels around Panay on weekends, and visits several provinces in the Philippines and countries abroad in summer. She loves random weekend nature trips, community immersion, and native coffee. Her mantra is "travel and learn." Hiking mountains has long been her favorite recreational activity and reaching out to indigenous people has took her to different places across regions. During her free time, she enjoys writing about her trips and share them to her students online. She is a Tourism Promotion Services NCII holder and commits herself to promoting great about each place she visits, from it's beautiful people to amazing destinations and attractions.

 

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