By ISAGANI DE CASTRO JR.
The businessman behind Boracay’s largest hotel-condominium project is defying orders from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to halt construction of his project, which environment officials said will destroy a wetland in the country’s top beach destination.
The P1.2 billion Boracay Crown Regency Hotel and Convention Center will be the “biggest hotel in Boracay” and will “put Boracay on the world map,” said Richard King, chair of J. King and Sons Co. Inc., the firm behind the project.
The project will add 457 hotel rooms in Boracay, and its convention center will accommodate 1,800 people. The whole hotel complex, which includes a water park, is scheduled to be completed in 2010.
“I won’t stop the project. I have all the necessary permits,” King told reporters Wednesday.
That’s bad news for Boracay’s eco-system, which is already under threat from pollution and congestion brought about by heavy tourist inflows and tourism facilities development. An average of 50,000 tourists visit Boracay monthly.
Bienvenido Lipayon, regional director of the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 6, told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that Mr. King’s hotel-convention project will have a negative impact on a nearby wetland. “The wetland, or a portion of the wetland, will be destroyed,” he said in a telephone interview.
According to the conservation group Wetlands International, wetlands “provide services of great value to society” since “they control floods, protect coastal zones and they host a great diversity of species.”
Lipayon has already sent J. King and Sons Co. Inc. a letter advising the company to “cease and desist” its construction “until an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) is secured from this office.”
The DENR’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources (PENR) officer Raul Lorilla, in a February 11, 2008 letter to J. King and Sons Co., said “some concerned residents of Boracay island” have complained about the project.
Lorilla said construction of the hotel is already destroying the wetland since water used in the construction is filling it up.
“In view of the adverse impact of this undertaking to our wetland and our environment, you are hereby advised to cease and desist from further filling up this wetland areas until after an authority from the DENR is secured,” Lorilla said.
“Be advised further that this body of water serves as the recharge area of the aquifer that maintains the balance and quality of the ground water,” he said.
Not a wetland
Richard King disagreed with DENR officials, saying the project will not have a bad impact on the wetland.
Rafael King, vice-president of J. King & Sons Co. Inc., even disputed the DENR’s contention that the affected area is a wetland. In a February 13 reply-letter to Lorilla, he said: “The ‘wetland’ that you referred to was created due to stormwater run-off from the nearby properties being diverted to our project site.”
Asked to comment on this, Lipayon told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that experts from the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) have attested that it is a wetland area.
Richard King admitted his firm’s hotel project does not have an ECC, but said this was due to the failure of DENR to act on their ECC application.
J. King & Sons Co. Inc. submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIAS) and application for ECC in September 12, 2007, but the DENR returned them on September 17, 2007 after DENR Secretary Joselito Atienza called for a moratorium on new construction of structures in Boracay.
Lipayon said the regional office had no choice but to return the ECC application after Atienza’s pronouncement.
After a consultation with stakeholders in mid-2007, Atienza proposed a moratorium on new construction activities, except government public utilities projects, on Boracay in light of the island’s environmental degradation
The moratorium was passed in October 2007 by the local government of Malay, Aklan, where most resorts are located. It took effect January 2 and will end on July 2, 2008. The local government is supposed to enforce the moratorium.
The six-month construction ban on structures such as hotels and apartments is also intended to give Boracay’s stakeholders time to complete its land use plan and a master development plan to “forestall and reverse environmental degradation.”
“Rapid growth threatens the viability of Boracay as a tourist destination,” Atienza said in January this year after the moratorium took effect. “Aside from the nagging problems of lack of water supply, overcrowding and waste disposal, the problem of flooding now also haunts Boracay.”
“Even the forests in Boracay have been depleted, and several residential and tourism facilities have been constructed on mountain slopes. These activities will eventually compromise public safety,” he said.
The master plan is seen as a “comprehensive strategy to keep excellent air and water quality, ample forest cover, solid waste management, and even containing floods in the resort island,” the DENR said.
It also said that “Boracay resort owners welcomed the total stop in construction activities and the moratorium on the issuance of construction permits.”
Not covered by moratorium
King told reporters Wednesday his hotel project is not covered by the six-month moratorium since they secured the necessary building and other permits in October 2007 or three months before the start of the moratorium on January 2, 2008.
King said DENR’s failure to act on their application for an ECC means an automatic approval of the permit as provided under a DENR administrative order in 2003. This order says that ECC applications “not acted upon within a specified time frame from the date of filing are deemed approved automatically.”
NGOs support moratorium
In an interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, Raul Barbarona, executive director of the Cebu-based Environmental Legal Assistance Center, lamented that despite the moratorium on new construction, projects such as the Crown Regency Hotel and Convention Center are still being implemented.
“They’ve not been able to stop all construction,” he said.
Barbarona said there has been “too much construction” on Boracay, and the moratorium was based on Boracay island’s “carrying capacity.”
Environmental lawyer Maria Paz Luna, president of Tanggol Kalikasan (Defense of Nature) told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak that in the case of Boracay, “obviously the state of water quality and resources there” already show the island has exceeded its carrying capacity.
Barbarona said the continued construction of the Crown Regency project and of other projects on Boracay shows “lack of political will” especially by the local government, which is supposed to implement it.
He also disagreed with King’s view that the ECC is deemed approved if not acted upon within a certain period. “The ECC is a list of conditions that the project proponent must comply with,” he said. “If there’s no ECC, there should be no construction.”
Although there is a DENR order which streamlines the ECC applications, Barbarona said it does not mean that a project can proceed even without an ECC. This circular should also not be used to “pressure the DENR into approving the ECC.”
Barbarona said the DENR can impose penalties on J. King & Sons for not following the proper procedures.
Lipayon said J. King & Sons has already asked a regional trial court in Aklan to issue a restraining order that seeks to stop the DENR from enforcing its order to the firm to stop construction of the project. A hearing has been set on May 29.