Thursday, May 10, 2018

Boracay Island’s Tragedy of the Commons

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

A month after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the total closure of Boracay Islands to recover from climate change and the influx of tourism, about millions of local and foreign tourists have been deprived from its celebrated white-sand beaches since its declaration as a cesspool.  The archipelagic country’s recent environmental disaster sums up the tragedy of the commons on its sustainable development meshing economic growth and environmental protection. Based from the Department of Tourism report, around 152,391 individual in Western Visayas of the Philippines could be affected by the closure giving the local economy a decrease by only five percent.

More than 1,000 structures are being partially or completely demolished to give way for the road widening. Although an initial master plan seeks for upgrades to address issues including the island’s infrastructure, transportation, environmental law violations, sewerage and waste management problems that will allot 70 percent for open space and only 30 percent for establishments under its rehabilitation program. 

President Duterte’s adamant upper hand on the island’s closure could save Boracay’s carrying capacity as a tourist destination to restore its wonder in addressing damages to the nature, degradation of tourist experience, alienation of local residents, and threats to culture and heritage which affected the ecological footprint of tourists.

The Philippines has a coastline of 37,008 kilometers, longer than the coastlines of China and the United States. The total coastal population of the country is estimated at 55.3 million or almost half of the country’s total population. Despite these omnipresent connections, environmental issues are still not high on the national security agenda in the country. The nexus of environmental security is seen neither as a security issue nor an environmental issue. However, it can be construed that environmental issues are often security concerns that have the potential to displace populations and lead to state collapse.

Boracay Islands is a best template for ecotourism that should embrace certain principles in the conservation of natural ecosystems, biodiversity and culture; community participation in the growth of the local tourism industry; inclusive growth that involves, women,  children, indigenous peoples, informal sector; increased  awareness  on environmental conservation and responsible travel; and balanced development by taking into consideration  economic, environmental and social goals.

In rehabilitating Boracay islands, there should be a good development plan to preserve the overall quality of the environment and tourist resources that will allow it to be used in the future. The planning and management of tourist development must not trigger serious ecological or socio-cultural problems. The attraction of open area should be maintained to continue the level of tourist satisfaction that will sustain commercial potential of the area and ultimately benefiting all the members of the community. It is therefore imperative that with increasing activities on various tourist destinations, it certainly requires the cooperation of all stakeholders in the community.

Moreover, sustainable tourism development must be supervised by Boracay island’s local authorities, and jointly managed and developed by non-government organizations (NGOs), local business groups and the residents because tourists or the consumers are the ones that are brought to the product made not only of individual local goods and services but the entire complex range of elements. Local authorities are in the best capacity to establish a sustainable approach to tourism in destinations, setting a strategic plan and balancing the interests of tourism enterprises, tourists and local residents. They are in the position to enforce tourism development, including spatial planning, development control, environmental management and community services.

Filipinos must understand that Boracay’s closure calls for a national support system on which all other commercial enterprises depend to save the country’s premiere tourist destination from greater havoc and for the bright future of the next generation. If political, social, cultural, and most importantly economic systems are to remain secure and viable, Boracay islands must also remain secure and viable. This will make the Philippines’ tourism gem a legitimate national security concern.

The social impacts of the environment security on Philippine tourism need niches for the effective use and conservation of the environment as a component of a wider sustainable development strategy in consonance with the principles of ecotourism and sustainable tourism development. It needs political will to champion environmental protection of beaches and islands against abusive economic gains that forgets the future of tomorrow.

The closure of Boracay island heralds the implementation of environmental laws in the country to protect Mother Nature premised on a foundation of ethics and respect for life.  Its closure sets example and offers a lessons learned practice that the there is a need to educate tourists, tourists stakeholders and communities of responsible tourism. It must create opportunities for raising awareness and support for the conservation of the environment and provide the forum to forge local and international network of individuals, institutions, the tourism industry and environmental line agencies. Notable efforts in prominent marine tourist destinations would call for proper resource utilization, protection and rehabilitation, as well as detection, apprehension, confiscation, prosecution and adjudication of environment-related violations. Lastly, the intersection of environmental justice and security considerations must lead to the formulation of policies that will influence the sunrise tourism industry, government institutions, civil society, and private sector to institutionalize the principles of environmental security governance.

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