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DENR to identify 'critical habitat' areas in Boracay

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) targets to craft an administrative order this month, identifying certain areas in Boracay as a "critical habitat," which would also mean restricting infrastructure projects and limiting tourists.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said in a stakeholders' meeting in his office on Wednesday, April 11, that the DENR would establish the Boracay Island Critical Habitat to protect and conserve forests and coastal marine areas in barangays Balaban and Yapak.

These areas would be for colonies of flying foxes, nesting grounds of marine turtles, and developing corals.

"Human disturbance, aggressive infrastructure development, and unregulated tourism have resulted [in] habitat destruction of the island's wildlife. We will not allow further degradation of these ecosystems and species," Cimatu said.

"Boracay is dependent on its biodiversity for water, soil stabilization, food, and as tourist attraction," he added.

Establishments that might be affected by the proposed "critical habitat" areas include Boracay West Cove, Crimson Resort & Spa, Movenpick Resort & Spa, Ecovillage Resort & Convention Center, Costa Vista Boracay, Shangri-La, Alta Vista de Boracay, that of San Miguel Corporation, Mabuhay Maritime Express, Seven Seas Water Park, and that of the Demostenes-Tirol family.

Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), said the administrative order will include protection measures that should be implemented by those who are occupying the affected areas.

"It will be a coordinated approach in protecting these species. This could mean activities in those areas will be limited because bats are nocturnal. There could also be restrictions in infrastructure development. There will be trade-offs," Lim told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

If a certain establishment is found to be blocking a critical area, Lim said "it is possible" for the DENR to recommend a demolition order.

"Those will be some of the possible implications. Everything will be scientific-based. It will rely on the findings of the study," Lim added.

The BMB had sent a team of experts to conduct a biodiversity assessment in Boracay last February 28 to March 2.

Lim said the bureau is set to meet with the Sangguniang Bayan ng Malay to discuss the proposed "critical habitat" areas.

Once approved by the Sangguniang Bayan ng Malay, the draft administrative order would be up for Cimatu's signing, which is targeted within the month.

This plan comes after President Rodrigo Duterte closed Boracay to tourists for 6 months, starting April 26. 

While admitting he has no master plan for the island, Duterte said he wants to open Boracay to land reform. He stressed that Boracay is classified as agricultural and forest land, a claim backed by a presidential proclamation issued in 2006.  

Experts have criticized Duterte's intentions for closing Boracay to tourists. 

In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, economist JC Punongbayan pointed out, for one, "If Duterte were really concerned about congestion and excessive commercial activity in Boracay, why did he just allow the construction of a new megacasino and megahotel there?" (READ: LIST: Planned developments in Boracay)

Duterte on Monday, April 9, denied knowing about this planned casino in Boracay. A photo released by Malacañang in December 2017, however, showed him meeting with officials of the Chinese company behind the planned casino. – Paterno Esmaquel II / Rappler.com