The beach is as pristine as it was when the island had no electricity back in the 80s. Thirty meters are measured from the water’s edge to the easement of establishments fronting the shore, making for a wider beachfront. Most of the 188 structures that fell inside the thirty meter border were voluntarily demolished, and those that didn’t were taken down by the DPWH.
Behind the beach, it’s a different story. Along the island’s circumferential road, lined by about 200 commercial establishments, a building owner describes the sight as, “Mukha kaming Marawi dito.” There are iron bars that jut out of demolished structures. There are uncovered diggings and giant pipes on muddied streets. These don’t make for a pretty sight. But that’s because the Boracay circumferential road is being widened to 12 meters, making room for a bicycle lane and two-meter wide sidewalks. Buildings that encroached on the road right of way were demolished, sprayed with red paint by the DPWH.
DPWH Secretary Mark Villar flew in Thursday for a quick inspection, saying the first phase of the project covering a 4.7 kilometer portion of the circumferential road will be 80% complete by October 26. Villar says the DPWH is focusing its efforts on the “most used, high traffic portion of the road.” He says the public works department merely enforced what was provided for in the law. “It’s mostly us that did the demolishing although we had help from the local government. The people here for the most part are very cooperative.”
Right outside the Cagban port, the main entry point to Boracay, is a showcase of how the entire 20-kilometer stretch will look like once completed. The sidewalk is paved in terra cotta bricks and lined with Anahaw trees. “We allocated a budget to complete a missing gap in the road to the Bolabog side of the island, but when the cesspool issue came up, we requested that our budget be augmented,” Villar told ANCX when we joined him on the inspection. “It’s a very short time period [given to do the job] but I am quite happy with the progress.” The project, costing PhP 490M, is minuscule compared to other Build Build Build projects, but has one of the highest profiles.
Villar says the major task is almost complete: laying out giant high density polyethylene pipes that measure 1.2 to 1.5 meters in diameters. “Previously pipes were only half a meter, this will definitely improve the capacity, dati kahit hindi malakas ang ulan, bumabaha na.”
There were countless challenges the DPWH had to surmount: the shipping of the giant pipes on barges to Boracay; four months of rainy weather in the island; low hanging, tangled wires of telecommunication and power companies; and digging into the water concessionaires’ pipe system. But now that the weather has improved and the issues addressed, Villar says paving the roads is, “parang icing na lang.”
The island though has to contend with daily brownouts, as electric posts have to be moved back for the road widening.
Villar is especially proud of the completed road connection to the Bolabog beachfront, which now boasts of electric trike sheds (electric trikes are to be managed by Grab) and a wide promenade area. He predicts that this side of the island, once with the most polluted waters, will be considered prime real estate in the near future.
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Villar says the soft opening of Boracay on the 26th, exactly six months after its closure is proof of how the Duterte administration does the job. “We do what we say. Boracay is one of our crown jewels, we had to move quickly. Policy should have been stricter, so it wouldn’t have reached this point. What happened in Boracay is a symbol for all of us,” Villar states, “of how government works. We pulled out all stops to get it done. We don’t do things haphazardly. There is no better time than now. It is a long overdue policy.”
By December this year, Secretary Villar promises, the first phase of the circumferential road project will be 100 % complete.
Photographs by Marnie Giron