Monday, 15 July 2013

SUSTAINABILITY programme in Boracay in full swing

Having been a business-owner, professional service provider, events organizer, local tourist and local resident rolled into one in Boracay Island for more than 12 years, I have experienced the transformation of one of the world’s best beach destinations to what it is today.


Even as far back as I was a student in Iloilo City, my classmates and I would pack our weekend bags to go to the island just to climb coconut trees and walk in the dark at night under a full moon.


The scenario now is the coconut trees have no more fruits having been cropped so they will not hit a sun bathing tourist. And one will have to walk in fancy blazing lights at night instead. But there is nothing wrong with these. Man evolves. So does our man-made environment. The greater problem is how sustainable the island will be because nature has always remained pure.

Today, Boracay is bursting with people and infrastructure. As a businessman myself, we see growth brought about by these burst of numbers as good opportunities for our market. 
Yet as we enter the green and sustainable economy, we need to re-invent our thinking and ways of doing things--- ultimately get our fingers dipped into the salad dressing and licked it with our fingers.  Boracay is just doing that. Like any center of growth it has to manage itself. As lonely planet mantra says “ Just don’t stand there, say something. “ Boracay is saying something today.

 With diverse interests and mind-set topped with ego, to orchestrate people who are in business in Boracay in contrast with transient tourists of various races, income and needs in an island is not an easy job.  Plus, projects in the Philippines are normally co-terminus with a government official or its entities, adds up to the enormous task.

When urbanization has become too big and too fast to be manageable because it was not planned correctly right in the beginning, the work becomes harder. It is more difficult to renovate than to construct. Ask your carpenter.

Boracay Foundation, Inc. (BFI) was organized to synchronize and align multiple directions of minds and actions in the island into consolidation and collaboration. Create a single movement. There will always be businesses in Boracay who will be indifferent though.

The irony in Boracay is that most of the big businesses, there are exceptions,   are the ones who are hard to get and live with. They become hearers than listeners. The small entrepreneurs are more the latter.

 With Sen. Franklin Drilon
 South Korea Ambassador to the Philippines Lee Hyuk

BFI President Jony Salme, South Korea Ambassador to the Philippines Lee Hyuk, BFI Chairman Henry O. Chusuey. Sen. Franklin Drilon, Sen. Cynthia Villar,Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores.

The inductees

At the recent induction of the BFI officers and Board of Trustees, I was a listener. My business in Boracay is miniscule. As I expect,  any developments in tourism business today tucks in its arm the buzz words ---responsibility and sustainability. Boracay is no exception. It was, indeed, the pivotal topic for many who were to speak.

Henry O. Chusuey, Chairman of BFI for so many years of its 16 years in existence talked about the  beach management improvement in the island. Indeed, the report validates the strict rules, among others,  on smoking, garbage collection and segregation at the beach front. This is a foremost positive transformation one will see in the island. 

But of course, it is not yet perfect as the interior land mass has so much garbage just dumped by irresponsible business owners and residents, too, mostly migrants. This is where community training Chusuey said can be helpful..

As a prime mover in Boracay hotel industry, Chusuey has experienced the ups and downs of Boracay including   the coliform crisis in the island. Yet, rain or shine, peak or lean season, he never gave up Boracay according to Sen. Drilon.This is noble. 

We all know, environmental issues are never isolated. Nature is just like that, like a human body system that a mere toothache will paralyze the whole body and one may not be able to function at all. Either one becomes too ill for a long time or recover quickly. Others will just die. Chusuey and his business stayed on and survived.

BFI President Jony Salme reported on the 1.2 million tourists annually in Boracay last year and expected to grow at  1.5 million next year. He said the island is pressured to cope up.

For example, the main road is congested and the new circumferential road is on construction, except there are property owners who will not give the right of way as mentioned by Gov. Joeben Miraflores in his talk. Businessmen who are hearers than listeners.

Salme also shared  the commendations to BFI by the League of Corporate Foundations' (LCF) at the 12th annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Expo when he was invited as guest speaker amongst the Presidents/Chairmen of Aboitiz Foundation, San Miguel Foundation, Shell Pilipinas Foundation, ABS CBN Foundation, Lopez Group of Companies Foundation, Ayala Foundation and  GMA Foundation.

South Korea Ambassador to the Philippines Lee Hyuk was a good choice to induct the officers as South Koreans registers the highest number of tourists in the country. Formerly assigned in Japan and China, he was able to share his experiences with developmental growth in the tourism industry.

After the affair, I had the chance to talk with him about my experiences in South Korea where the marketing, design , development and the manufacturing industry embrace the academe—where the high school and college students partake in creating awareness towards nation building.

He said by all means I have to write him because I asked for idea exchange in the same manner I was invited at the Philippine-South Korean Design forum organized by DTI-CITEM last year. I am establishing  a  community-oriented school  as inspired with what I saw in Daegu, South Korea. The school is now  in full swing construction in Iloilo City.

It will be the first international school for design in the region which will offer courses in green and social design, environmental space planning, heritage interior design and architecture, green resort and urban planning design, community arts and crafts, among others. All for our next generation to get ready for their turn. Sustainability will be a future science when taught at the academe so the so-called "demand generation" will develop systems for all to practice and follow.

Senator Cynthia Villar, whose husband’s father is from Iloilo, was a surprise speaker. She briefly talked about her undertaking with green sustainable projects which is part of the group I work with as designer for the Metro Manila Development Authority livelihood project dubbed as Crafts Ecology as pioneered by DTI-CITEM. It aims to build entrepreneurships in artisanal crafts in urban Manila.

While the room was filled with Ilonggos, many of whom invested in Boracay, the guest of honor and keynote speaker  Senator Franklin Drilon, also from Iloilo, was the whistle blower.


He was in his element with firm words of encouragement to BFI and the local government units. His talk was like painting vivid colors to listeners as he illustrate how Iloilo river in 2011 was stinky and dirty nobody dare to go near the river.


Today, Iloilo river is in the running as contender to be cleanest river in the world! And there are only four in the globe. One in the Philippines, mind you. ( My past blog on Iloilo River Click Here )


Vivid pictures of the sparkling Iloilo river created bi-polar images in my mind in comparison to the dying creeks and in-land bodies of water in Boracay. Today, the “dead-forest” of Boracay which was a swampy area is dirty and filled with man-made structures. It stink, too.  Same for the creek behind D’Mall in which water was trapped and can no longer get out of its natural flow into the sea. It also stink.


I remember we had a photo shoot with a team of New York based production at the sterling condition of the “dead forest “ swamp of Boracay 10 years ago. It was pristine that it could have been one of Boracay’s attractions. Now, it is gone. It paints only a picture of a destroyed nature in my mind---brown and murky.


Sen. Drilon illustrated an example about a barbeque park along the Iloilo river which refused to get out of the river bank. But because of political will, he was able to eject it out.

Iloilo river is a 50 kilometer stretch and was cleaned up in a mean two years. The White Beach, the main tourism beach in Boracay, is about four to six  kilometers long only. So it can be cleaned up easily in comparison to Iloilo river. No question about it, this has been done at the beach with flying colors, except for irresponsible event organizers who leaves the beach filthy, one of those I blogged last summer.

BFI admits, implementation needs more work. While the front beach has been cleaned up, what we do not see are the small bodies of water in-land including miniscule creeks that are dead or deteriorating. Perhaps the reason that the island becomes flooded is because the water tributaries are already blocked by concrete.

Water is important in sustainable tourism. Only 4% of earth’s water is potable. The good news is, Boracay recently opened its multi-million waste water sewage treatment plant, through a public and private partnership with Ayala firm called Boracay Island Water, Co. It increase the island water capacity to 230% which in return advances its environmental compliances.  
But the bodies of in-land water in Boracay need to be examined in its environmental degradation.

Sen. Drilon among the speakers was blunt. He had three points. First, uncontrolled urbanization. Second, squabbles over land ownerships. Third, encroachment in critical/ protected areas. And he challenged those in government that this can be addressed by political will. The young dynamic Malay mayor John Yap was there  and certainly he was listening. So was Vice-Governor Calizo whom I have worked with so many community projects in the past.

Iloilo being a formdidable leader and example in the region, has many models to be shared with its neighbors including Boracay. Sen. Drilon shared inspiration on the 8 billion Jalaur river project in IIoilo which will not only solve the water management problem in the province but will also become one of the future sustainable tourist destination as it will create a 800 hectares of lake up there in the mountain ( I think in Dingle). Still, it will irrigate 300 hectares of rice land. Again, pictures in my mind become as vivid. Here is an image of making the life of business within in communities easier while translating it to sustainable tourism.

As Sen. Drilon was coloring my mind with the Iloilo projects, my other mind was in Coron as the we had a recent forum on conservation, social responsibility, sustainable tourism for Coron and Calamianes Islands.


 I was tasked to talk on sustainable design in resorts, hotels and land/waterscape for which I stand firm for  a distinct Filipino point of view for structures with a sense of place and origin based on culture and tradition while fostering Filipino heritage.  Buildings and structures should embrace Filipino sustainable design as well  made of sustainable materials and with renewable energy. There must be restrain to borrow the design of other countries  in our hotels and resorts as we can not borrow our Filipino soul. We say one will know when one is in Bali when he is in Bali. One is in Boracay when he is in Boracay.  


While many Boracay investors are also putting up resorts in Coron, the Coron house must be set in order first. The town of Coron is in chaos and with the sudden influx of tourism it has to cope up. Then, my mind jumped to Gigantes Island in Iloilo in which I was told, we need to protect the island as well before it becomes a nightmare as tourists come to destroy it than to preserve it.


Illegal settlers, like those in Iloilo river, were resettled in impressive relocation sites. That is an incentive. One thousand of them, said Sen. Drilon. One or two hotel which is out of its way in Boracay is not difficult to remove, and so they were done by Mayor John Yap. The senator said, if only we respect boundaries, we have no problems at all. That add a zest of color to my mind when I always say Filipinos are very bad at zoning.


Boracay will survive. Perhaps surpass its expectations because it has to set a world standard for having been voted the best beach in the world in 1012 by Travel and Leisure Magazine.


When I worked with  El Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo ( MINCETUR or the Ministry for External Commerce and Tourism  in Peru for  3 years), I had the opportunity to work with people in their government. In the Philippines, we are always whining. Always pointing our fingers to our government when something goes wrong.

 In Peru, I noticed they  believe in the co-existence of the private sector with government. Their tourism industry works well in this mentality. Political will is faith in creating collaboration and harmony in society. It is like the Latinos mimic the flora and fauna in the rainforest, the Amazon and the Cordilleras---each must have a symbiotic relationship so their own kind will survive.

I was able to talk to Senator Drilon quickly, sharing with him my social design projects in Iloilo city and the province for which he said I must go to Mayor Jed Mabilog—which again painted my mind with some bursts of  colorful notes. I shared with him the work I do for the Ati community in Boracay which I mentioned he may visit one day. He smiled. I thought it was just saying yes, one day soon.

By the end of the program, my white canvas in my mind was painted with bright colors of  hope for Boracay and the rest of the islands we have in the Philippines.

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