ILOILO City – It was like being struck by super typhoon “Yolanda”. This was how a Boracay-based alliance of various basic and sectoral organizations described the island’s closure from April 26 to Oct. 25.
While the government praised itself for the six-month island shutdown for a massive rehabilitation, members of the group We Are Boracay claimed they were “feeling mixed emotions of grief and anger.”
“The so-called rehabilitation is full of deceit and a disaster to our lives and livelihood,” according to the alliance’s statement released on Oct. 26 when Boracay was officially reopened to tourism activities.
Hundreds if not thousands of workers lost their jobs due to the closure, We Are Boracay lamented.
“More than 500 families’ homes were demolished, and hundreds of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been oppressed by unreasonable policies to get permits to operate. We are greatly afraid there will no longer be workers and MSMEs that can go back to the island,” the alliance said.
For them, the government’s solution to Boracay’s environmental problems was “a disaster stronger than super typhoon Yolanda.”
“Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) struck central Philippines on November 2013. It was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,300 people and leaving large swathes of the Visayas devastated.
Boracay’s closure, according to the group, brought “never-imagined-before destruction to lives, homes, and the community we have built, dislocating us from our jobs and livelihood, and trample upon our human rights.”
DOLE: WHAT NEGLECT?
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) belied We Are Boracay’s claim. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Oct. 26 – the day Boracay reopened – that his department provided jobs and livelihood assistance to some 27,000 residents and non-residents of Boracay.
Bello said they were able to initially assist 5,000 workers due to limited budget under the
Emergency Employment Program (EEP) of the department.
But after the Office of the President gave DOLE P500 million, he said they were able to assist an additional 22,000 workers in Boracay.
“Unang-una, noong sinara ang Boracay nagkaproblema kami dahil ang hotel workers and informal workers nawalan ng trabaho. Agad-agad implement ang EEP. (When Boracay was closed, we encountered problems because of the hotel workers and informal workers who lost their jobs. DOLE readily implemented the EEP. Despite the limited resources we were able to address the concerns of about 5,000 workers,” said Bello.
“Fortunately, the Office of the President gave us half billion pesos, so we were able provide additional EEP to about 22,000 not only Boracay residents but all of those who are working here,” the DOLE chief added.
We Are Boracay is composed of poor households occupying Boracay’s wetlands and forestlands; formal and informal workers in the resort island; households affected by the demolition of illegal structures, and the youth.
Also a part of the alliance are Rise Up Aklan (a province-wide organization focusing on disaster mitigation and response) and Friends of Boracay (a network of professionals, academe, religious groups, and students).
We Are Boracay decried the six-month rehabilitation as “an extensive cleanup to implement an exclusive tourism business for a few big corporate capitalists who will control the tourism in the island” at the expense of Boracay’s poor and marginalized sectors.
Upon Boracay’s reopening, the group claimed lowly workers were “no longer allowed to dwell inside the area and what’s worse, we can no longer go back to our former jobs. Our homes were irreverently demolished (and) we were left without relocation and abode.”
“Government agencies and the local government unit that demolished our homes are pointing fingers on who is responsible to provide us with relocation,” We Are Boracay lamented./PN