Where's the money? Initial audit reveals 'discrepancy' in Boracay environmental fee collections

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2018 11:06 AM | Updated as of Jan 15 2019 06:52 AM

FILE PHOTO: Tourists takes photographs along local sailboats on the island of Boracay, central Philippines January 18, 2016. Charlie Saceda, Reuters

MANILA - An initial audit has uncovered a "discrepancy" in the local government's records of environment fees collected in Boracay, an official said Thursday, as the famous holiday island faced an imminent 6-month shutdown.

Visitors in Boracay are required to pay a P75 environmental fee, part of which should go to the cleanup of the island's waters.

Some 2 million tourists flock to Boracay every year so local officials should have collected about P150 million in environmental fees.

Records, however, show that only P91 million was collected in 2017, Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre told DZMM.

"May discrepancy na agad na nakita ang DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government)... Kailangan sagutin ng local government unit iyung discrepancies na iyan," he said.

(The DILG immediately saw a discrepancy. The local government unit should explain this.)

Local officials have said 15 percent of environmental fees are spent for constructing hospitals for the province. They have yet to explain, however, how the rest of the funds were used, added Alegre.

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Local officials could be held criminally liable if found guilty of misappropriating the funds, DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing earlier told DZMM.

Boracay, famous for its sugary white sand, lively night scene and abundant water sports, will be closed to tourists starting April 26 to address its pollution problem, as ordered Wednesday by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte has castigated the local government and residents for "overzealous" development and permitting beachfront building with inadequate sewage and water treatment facilities.

Many businesses on the island have been releasing wastewater directly into the sea, violating rules on wastewater management, according to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

Only 47 percent of establishments in the island are connected to a sewer line, said Alegre.

Some 900 establishments, meanwhile, are located within the 30-meter shoreline easement or no-build zone, and in wetlands or forest lands, said Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo.

A shutdown of Boracay could lead to job losses for 36,000 people and P56 billion in lost revenue, stakeholders earlier said, as they appealed for a partial, instead of a full closure.