Villanueva urges DENR to declare Boracay as 'critical' area

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Senator Joel Villanueva has urged the environment department to declare Boracay Island an "environmentally critical" area.

During the hearing of the Senate committee on environment in Boracay on Friday, March 2, Villanueva said that declaring the world-famous island an environmentally-critical area (ECA) would force establishments to apply for environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) before operating.

Under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No 2003-03, ECAs are delineated when "significant environmental impact is expected" based on projects or programs implemented.

Villanueva said, however, that the DENR should also look into the nature of the ecosystem of the island to declare it as an ECA.

"I believe that it’s time to declare Boracay an environmentally critical area, based solely on the said definition....I think it’s the nature of the ecosystem that should determine whether the DENR or the EMB (Environmental Management Bureau) can recommend that an area be considered an environmentally-critical area," Villanueva said.

He added that some hotels in Boracay, prior to their construction, did not secure an ECC from the EMB.

Senate committee on environment and national resources chairperson Cynthia Villar said thus far, they would not recommend shutting down the entire island. She reasoned out that some establishments are actually compliant?

"How you will encourage them to comply if you punish even those that do comply?" she said in a radio interview on Sunday, March 4. 

Also on Friday, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said his department is set to reclaim wetlands that business establishments and illegal settlers have encroached on.

"They (wetlands) need to be restored because they act as catchment during the rainy days and they prevent flooding," Cimatu told the Senate panel.

There are 9 wetlands in the island, based on an old map, but Cimatu said that 4 wetlands were "missing" and not accounted for.

It later turned out in a DENR probe that these wetlands were "occupied by a mall, a resort hotel and around 100 illegal settlers" which have already received notices of violation, cease and desist orders, and demolition notices from the department.

Cimatu added that he plans to revive the Community and Environment and Natural Resources Office in Boracay. In 2014, it was abolished as a result of the government’s rationalization plan.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier threatened to shut down the famous island, and gave erring establishments two months to shape up. Several establishment owners were summoned for environmental violations mid-February.

On February 22, a mission to save Boracay was set up by the environment department while the Department of the Interior and Local Government proposed a 6-month state of calamity and two-month commercial shutdown to speed up the rehabilitation of the island.

Despite the ecological crisis in Boracay, its White Beach still managed to be ranked as among the world's top 25 beaches– Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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