The Philippine island of Boracay.
PHOTO BY DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM
Now is the time to call it.
It was tough to call it last week, when all we had to go on with was a shutdown announcement. But now that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been a bit more vocal about his plans (or lack thereof), it’s no longer difficult to surmise what’s truly happening here.
The Philippines has announced that the popular tourist destination of Boracay will be closed for six months starting on April 26 due to sustained environmental damage.
This is more than just rehabilitating Boracay – no surprises there. And if the recent news can at all be trusted, this is not about building a stupid Chinese casino either.
This is about setting precedents.
This is Duterte demonstrating his overarching vision for the lands and peoples of the Philippines.
He means for this to be a case study on area development.
Former Philippine environment chief Gina Lopez called it. The problem with the free-for-all commodification of our natural resources is that it turns lands to shit for the benefit of capitalists, not its inhabitants.
Case in point: where are the Ati now, the original settlers of Boracay? Boracay makes tens of billions of pesos – how much of that actually benefits the Ati tribe?
Lifestyle videographer Jason Magbanua purports that “Boracay is also its people.” Ok, cool. That’s lovely. But where ARE its people? If Boracay really were “its people” then the Ati will have a significant if not a majority stake on the commerce and governance of the island. But they don’t.
In the course of this nationwide conversation, how many of us remembered to call out the forgotten rights of the Ati?
Another thought to marinate in: when you introduce modern concepts of consumerism into an area, you do not just change its economy – you change its culture. You change the way individuals regard themselves and in turn, the way the community relates to its environs.
People who once had simple, perfectly idyllic lives begin to think of themselves as destitute in comparison to their urban counterparts. And then money-grubbing vultures swoop in and bury their claws deeper and deeper into the land, perfuming the stench of their greed with promises of growth and progress.
But what is growth and progress? Having more, and then having the most, and then having the mostest? Where does it end? What does it all culminate to? Perhaps, one of two things: utter environmental decimation, or a government-led intervention in the form of a shutdown.
I prefer the [expletive] shutdown.
Here’s a timelapse version of what I think happened to Boracay:
Boracay was a goddamn beauty queen of an island, so we opened it up to tourism in the 70’s. Businessmen saw the potential so they all came flooding in willy-nilly, bringing in thousands of job opportunities for people who lived outside of Boracay.
Local government saw that Boracay was a money-making mother so they approved business proposals left and right, sustainability be damned. National government saw billions of pesos flying into their coffers yearly from Boracay’s general direction and just went, “Mmmkay. More!” And then lo and behold: Boracay has transformed from a goddamn beauty queen of an island into an island-version of Metro Manila. Divisoria by the sea.
Now it’s time to call out actor Jim Paredes’ bullshit, and the bullshit of those who seem determined to misunderstand this situation simply because Duterte is on top of it:
That some people can even make such a comparison is travesty and lazy thinking most foul. That Boracay and Metro Manila can occupy the same space in some people’s minds is precisely the reason why it has been too easy for us to turn that island into a septic tank.
And I, as a writer and a human being endowed with the requisite brain power to hold at least two different concepts in his head, refuse to validate any dialogue that even marginally alludes to Boracay being Metro Manila-adjacent because the mere idea of it infuriates me to the point that I lose all semblance of cool and decency.
I will only end up punching the nearest available anything. I had actually already started writing a listicle about it, but had to stop midway as it was turning into a real mindf*ck. Comparing Boracay to Metro Manila is a terrible affront to Boracay and the role that it represents in the biosphere.
The Philippines has 7,641 islands. Why on God’s green earth have we been exhausting JUST THE ONE? Boracay made 56 billion pesos in 2017. Is it truly, categorically unfeasible to have 10 or 20 different islands collectively make 56 billion pesos, instead of JUST THE ONE?
For years, we have been allowed to operate in Boracay using a Metro Manila business model. And now that Duterte has exerted his legendary political will to shift that unsustainable paradigm, I for one, say, “F*ck yeah.”
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