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Boracay resort owner arrested for allegedly violating environmental laws

As part of the Philippine government’s rehabiliation drive in the famed tourist destination, a Filpino proprietor has been charged for allowing his hotels to occupy the seashore, encroach on forest land and block wastewater.

In a bid to ramp up the Philippine government’s cleanup operations in Boracay Island in the province of Aklan, the owner of two hotels in the famed beach destination has been arrested by officials on 29 October for allegedly violating environmental laws. 

Angel Ang Tumbagahan, who runs three-star hotels La Isla Bonita and Boracay Oriental Resort, has been accused by the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) environment division of building structures within 30 metres of the sea shore.

Building permanent structures on the shoreline is prohibited under the local law, as they obstruct the drainage system that ensures wastewater and sewage is transported to disposal points.

Among the main problems that led to Boracay’s closure in 2018 was that 716 of 834 residential and business properties in the tourist hotspot had no discharge permit and were presumed to be draining waste water directly into the sea, reported the Philippines News Agency.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte even likened the world-renowned island to a “cesspool” before ordering its six-month shut down to tourism, as it underwent environmental rehabilitation, including the dismantling of structures not allowed in identified beachfront zones.

Apart from violating the coastal easement zone, Tumbagahan was also charged for breaching the forest and water codes by encroaching on forest land and blocking wastewater. The forestry code indicates that strips of mangrove or swamplands at least 20 meters wide, including shorelands facing the ocean, are needed for conservation purposes. 

Tumbagahan had been notified of his violations prior to his arrest and was given time to demolish the illegal structures but he “blatantly disregarded” the order, according to the prosecutor’s report, seen by Eco-Business.

Tumbagahan’s cases are now with the regional and municipal trial courts in Aklan and Buruanga, but the accused is out on bail, James Legaspi, administrative officer of the Aklan Prosecutor’s Office told Eco-Business.

Tumbagahan was unavailable for comment.

According to the NBI, it filed similar cases with at least eight resort owners in 2018. The cases are still pending. Investigators are currently completing the documentation of cases against 21 more Boracay resorts for related offenses. 

President Duterte created an inter-agency task force in 2018 to oversee the rehabilitation of the popular tourist destination until 8 May 2020, but the term has been extended for another year as 112 establishments were not yet compliant, and 723 structures were still built on forestland blocks.

After the island was shut two years ago to tackle various environmental problems, it reopened six months later with stricter environmental measures in place, such as the ban of single-use plastic and a cap on tourists arrivals.

A government study in 2018 found that the number of tourist visitors to the island was 19,215 people per day, well short of the carrying capacity of 54,945. But the number of locals, migrant workers and stay-in workers on the island pushed the daily population to 70,700, exceeding the carrying capacity by 30 per cent.

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