Manila, Philippines – As the whole country awaits the third State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday, the people of the municipality of Malay in Aklan has a greater stake in what the President has to say on his report to the nation. Their biggest concern: what happens next to the Boracay island rehab plan?
Government leaders mentioned on July 18 in a pre-SONA conference on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCAM-DRR) on July 18 that the Boracay rehab will be part of the Monday speech. However, the question remains, how will the government go forward with the rehab, and if the ways forward indeed includes land reform, how will this go down, and for whom will the plan be beneficial?
In mid-May, Philippine Star released on its website a video of a mountain in Boracay being flattened. Residents sent a supposed footage of excavation work ongoing in a part of Barangay Yapak in Boracay. A resident was also quoted in the report, in relation to the mountain flattening: “I am witnessing four trucks and a backhoe, working from morning to dusk ripping down the mountain and carting it away.”
ABS-CBN then reported that it is part of building a road network which indeed covers a segment of the mountain. The network leads Costa Vista Boracay, a development project of Vista Land & Landscapes Inc. of the Villar family. Vista Land later denied that the images were from their project site.
The government, on the other hand, presented a more common-good direction for the rehabilitation for the island. “I’m declaring a land reform in the entire island of Boracay. Congress and I will talk about this,” Pres. Duterte said on May 30. Around 408.5 hectares of land in Boracay Island, as per Department of Agrarian Reform, may be placed under land reform. Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones at this point also said that around 15.5 hectares can be immediately placed under land reform once the President gives the go-signal.
However, just two weeks after, Duterte has a less sweet version of the land reform and how it will go down: “I want to give it to the natives, so by the time that big businesses will begin to go in, the locals already possess the land title and they can sell it. My consolation is that they will be able to handle money,” he said on June 12 during an oath-taking ceremony in Clark, Pampanga.
The confusing tale of the fate of Boracay after the six-month rehab program is already alarming as it is, given the uncertainty it brings to the lives of the Malaynons. The land reform narrative, sadly, takes it to another level.
RealTalk gathered documents and data on land use and zoning of Boracay and the Municipality of Malay, which somehow suggests that recent pronouncements on land and agrarian reform may not have been based in recent official facts and figures from the local government itself.
This brings to question whether pronouncements were made in haste, or if there are underlying or veiled interests at play while toying with the future of residents of Boracay and the municipality of Malay.
Boracay and Malay, according to official data
The island of Boracay is covered by the municipality of Malay, a first class coastal town with 17 barangays and 116 puroks. The municipality had a total income of P533.72 million in 2017 and received an internal revenue allotment share of P118.53 million in 2018.
As of 2015, the whole municipality had a population of 52, 973, with a 2.18 percent population growth between 2010 and 2015. Five languages are mainly used in the municipality: Malaynon, Aklanon, Tagalog, Hiligaynon, and English. Ati is the indigenous peoples group of the municipality.
On infrastructure, eight bridges are currently existing in the municipality. An airport and a seaport in Barangay Caticlan also serves local residents and tourists. The Aklan Electric Cooperative serves 98.70 percent of the households in Malay, covering all of the barangays inside the municipality.
The municipal profile, meanwhile, shows the division of land use per purpose. Boracay Island and Mainland land use statistics were separated, showing stark difference and more detailed representations.
For Boracay Island, every four in 10 hectares of land is being used for tourism purposes, totaling almost 419 hectares. Residential use takes second place at 186 hectares or 18.48 percent of the total, and forestland takes third biggest portion with 180.65 hectares or 17.95 percent of the total.
It is worth noting that Ati Ancestral Domain only takes 2.1 hectares of land from the island, while agriculture has zero hectares covered in the island itself. Eco-tourism also has zero hectares based on the official data.
The mainland, however, takes on quite a different division of land use for its 5,594.36 hectares of land, which brings the total land area of the municipality of Malay to 6,601 hectares.
Agriculture and forestland takes the top two spots on biggest land use purposes for the mainland, which is distinct from and does not cover the Boracay Island itself. Agriculture use covers 2,268.85 hectares or 40.56 percent of the mainland, while forestland use covers 1,939.73 hectares or 34.67 percent of the mainland.
Existing irrigation structures are as follows: Argao National Irrigation System, Malay National Irrigation System, Cubay Communal Irrigation System, Dumlog Diversion Dam, Nabaoy Diversion Dam, Balusbos Diversion Dam, Dumlog Communal Irrigation System, and Caticlan Small Water Impounding Project. Irrigated rice fields are at 130 hectares, while non-irrigated rice fields are at 38 hectares.
The agricultural land of the mainland can also be divided based on area dedicated to crops: Palay, for one, has 168 hectares, while coconut or copra has 929.99 hectares. Banana, meanwhile, has 14.77 hectares, vegetables has 13.79 hectares, and root crops has three hectares.
Tourism at heart of economic growth
And while land use in Malay and Boracay were divided into several portions of purpose, tourism is still unequivocally the driver of economic growth and livelihood for the residents.
Employment rate in the municipality is at 89.59 percent, with tourism services taking 90 percent of those employed. The remaining 10 percent is divided between transportation (seven percent) and government services (three percent). Most of the tourism work are in the Boracay Island itself, given the Zoning ordinances support in this direction for the whole municipality. The latest available piece of document on Malay and Boracay’s zoning ordinance is Municipal Ordinance No. 337, series of 2014, which was aptly titled “An Ordinance Enacting the Revised Zoning Ordinance of the Municipality of Malay.”
It cited reasoning behind the new ordinance as follows: (1) “the recent developments in the Municipality of Malay particularly in Boracay Island and the revision of the 2000-2011 Malay Comprehensive Land Use Plan require the parallel revision of the Zoning Ordinance as its implementing tool”; (2) “the implementation of the Malay Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) would require the enactment of regulatory measures to translate its planning goals and objectives into reality and a Zoning Ordinance is one such regulatory measure which is an important tool for the implementation of the comprehensive land use plan”; and (3) “Section 447 of the Local Government Code of 1991 authorizes local government units to enact integrated zoning ordinances in consonance with the approved comprehensive land use plan, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations”.
The new zoning ordinance, in line with the 2012-2022 Comprehensive Land Use Plan drafted, drew a clear-cut leaning towards Boracay being a tourist destination: “Considering Malay’s geographic location, spatial and physical attributes; the strategy is to sustain Malay as a premier international tourist destination. Boracay Island is the key resource of the municipality’s tourism industry. Its crystal blue clear water and powdery white sands has to be preserved and protected. Survival of its high quality beachfront is survival of tourism industry in the island and the entire municipality. Beaches in the mainland and other potential tourism sites like the tree park, forests, caves, falls and rivers needs to be protected and maintenance of their amenity value is of paramount importance as tourism destination town.”
Sadly, the 2012-2022 Comprehensive Land Use Plan has been unavailable to the public since the Boracay rehab was declared.
Ongoing rehab, but no indication of land reform yet
On April 14, the Office of the Mayor of Malay sent an accomplishment report to Pres. Duterte on the status of the ongoing rehab in Boracay. He opened the letter by saying that Duterte’s pronouncement “was a “wake-up call” to the community, wherein, a lot of stakeholders, regardless of economic status, volunteered to demolish their structures that violated environmental, sanitation, and local laws. The Municipality of Malay has been pleading for the intervention of the National Government for previous years.”
The accomplishment report covered the following topics and points of island rehabilitation:
- Waste water;
- Urban planning;
- Six-month action plan for the rehab;
- “Illegal settlers”;
- Information campaigns;
- Oplan Hawan, demolition of illegal structures in Puka Beach;
- 25+5 easement;
- Construction of comfort rooms, information, and DRR center;
- Moratorium on Building Construction;
- Closure of Businesses without Permits;
- Phasing out of tricycle units;
- Strengthening the Barangay ID System; and
- Creation of the Rehabilitation Task Force.
The absence of any efforts on preparing the island for land reform by the municipal leadership signals a gap and broken links on the pronouncements from Malacanan and the realities happening on ground and the changes being made in the locality.
National and local leaders have also openly expressed disagreement to a conversion plan for the island, effectively shifting the use from tourism to agriculture.
“I don’t believe that is feasible. Can you imagine putting topsoil on areas which will be covered by land reforms, so it will be suited for agriculture? Even the representatives of the DAR disowned the undersecretary who said that,” Sen. Franklin Drilon said during an interview, as reported by Manila Bulletin.
“I agree completely with the observation of the chair that Boracay is not any more suited for any agrarian reform program,” Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores said during a Senate panel on Boracay land reform.
Agrarian Reform Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Pangulayan even admitted to the panel that “it was the President alone who decided to put Boracay under the government’s land reform program after its six-month rehabilitation,” Manila Bulletin reported. However, the undersecretary said that they were already looking into it even before, based on Proclamation No. 1064, released during former President Gloria Arroyo’s term in office.
With the government still unclear on how the rehab and the fate of Boracay after will be handled and decided, Malaynons continue to suffer and fear complete loss of livelihood.
“A lot of local residents here used to rely on the tourism to earn a living. Now, with the ongoing rehab, a few managed to get other source of income, but most people are either drowning in debt or living in poverty,” a resident of Boracay told RealTalk. “I cannot image how long we can hold this out. We learned to earn from tourism for years, but in just one snap, it was taken away from us.”
Another resident opined: “I do not think they really want locals to earn from agriculture. At the end of the day, we will return to being a tourism spot. The only difference is, the businesses they disliked will be gone. The padrinos will remain, and those not yet here will arrive.” — RealTalk, July 2018
Editor’s note: This story was produced with support from the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and ILC-NES Year 4.