March 2007

1. Boracay the Paradise

Boracay map

Boracay Island is located off the northwest corner of Panay Island, about two hundred kilometers west of Cebu. It is approximately seven kilometers long, dog-bone shaped and with a total land area of 1038 hectares (10.32 square kilometers.) Boracay has twice been named "Best Beach in the World" by Conde Nast magazine. After visiting the Philippines for eight years, was it finally my time to see this supposedly magical place?

Cebu Pacific flight #5J

I offered my girlfriend Honeymae a vacation and gave her three choices:
Would she like to visit...
1. Malapascua Island (off the north end of Cebu Island)?
2. Siquijor Island (off the south end of nearby Negros)?
3. Boracay Island (the most famous tourist destination in the Philippines) ?
She chose Boracay.
On March 21, we flew from Mactan Airport in Cebu to Kalibo on Panay Island.

White Beach, Boracay

From Kalibo, we rode a bus to Caticlan...
Then, a pumpboat ride across Tabon Strait... Boracay itself, where we arrived in late afternoon.

It looked just like in the postcards: white sand beach, luminescent turquoise water, swaying palm trees... and lots of people.

Casa Camilla

We spent three nights at Casa Camilla, a simple resort near the beach.

Casa Camilla

We relaxed on the beach...


...went swimming every day....

DMall, Boracay

...and even went shopping at "d*mall."

New boyfriend and girlfriend

We both tried out new boyfriends/girlfriends; but decided to stick with the ones we had brought along on the trip.


Sandcastle at sunset...

Puka Beach

One day we rode a tricycle out to the small village of Yapak, on the north end of Boracay. It's a near-perfect place, with a stunningly-beautiful, empty beach. Those tired of the crowds and hustle of White Beach can come here for respite.

Boracay sunset

We had a wonderful four nights here.
Thank you, Boracay.

Eco Village sign

2. Boracay the Nightmare

Alongside the delights of Boracay are its formidable problems:
1. Mismanagement: According to a 2003 Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism article, "the island has since become a case study of the ill effects of having a local government dominated by the wealthy and the powerful, whose concerns usually do not extend beyond their own personal interests. In Boracay, this has meant governance largely dictated by the wants of resort owners, who count among them the mayor and vice mayor."
Example: Resort owners have resisted compliance with a 1990 master plan for environment-friendly development, which includes a new water and sewerage system aimed at conserving water and cleaning up waste disposal.
2. Over-development: Historically centered along White Beach, resort development has spread all over the island with corporations having bought up over 25% of the limited land area.
3. Environmental degradation: Clear indicators include saltwater intrusion in the aquifers and human fecal pollution in the groundwater. A 1997 fecal coliform scandal first brought attention to this problem.
Existing resorts are serviced by septic tanks; yet an algae bloom along White Beach (it was pretty heavy when we visited) show that the tanks are leaking / overflowing. Rising number of cases of water-borne diseases also testify to this problem. In 1997, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources released a report saying Boracay’s swimming area and groundwater were contaminated with coliform bacteria (Escherichia coli). There is a sewarage system now, but it reportedly only covers a small segment of the island's resorts.
4. Failed poverty reduction: In spite of the huge inflow of cash from the tourist economy, development in Boracay has not alleviated the obvious poverty of much of the island's population. The non-resort areas of the island are literally covered with squatter shacks, without visible access to piped water or sanitary waste disposal.

Fairways and Bluewater Resort

One example of such development is the Fairways and Bluewater Resort, a mammoth golf course / time-share condominium complex comprising 126 hectares with a world-class 18-hole golf course. This resort occupies over 10% of Boracay. It has a high fence to keep out non-guests, charges 60 US dollars per round of golf, and the huge expanses of green grass suck up vast quantities of the island's scarce fresh water.

Boracay Eco Village

Another is the 80-hectare Boracay Eco Village Resort and Convention Center, "the only mountain resort in Boracay that allows you to enjoy the white sand and the turquoise water, as well as the rich nature of the land and its fauna."
This has been achieved by fencing off another 8% of Boracay, and presumably re-locating the previous residents ('locals') to other places.

Shangri-La Boracay

I took this picture of the new 11-hectare, 60-million dollar Shangri-La Boracay, a 170-room and 50-villa beachfront resort being built by ShangriLa Hotels and Resorts, Asia Pacific's leading luxury hotel group.

Yes, these resorts all provide (low-paying) jobs; but they also make much of the island inaccessible to non-guests, they suck up huge quantities of scarce water, and profits are invariably expatriated off the island.

I believe the goal should be sustainable and pro-poor tourism. Yet in the Philippine tourism sector, the national government and donors have generally aimed to promote private sector investment, macro-economic growth and foreign exchange earnings, without specifically taking the needs and opportunities of the poor into account in tourism development. This has resulted in negative environmental effects as discussed above, and exacerbated the already-wide income disparity between non-landowning residents of Boracay (like these sunglass vendors), and those who have money to invest in the scramble for tourist dollars.
What strategies are available to protect the fragile physical environment of Boracay and simultaneously provide economic opportunity for the poor majority of residents?