MANILA (THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Is Boracay in need of rehabilitation? Absolutely.
Visitors, tourists and locals alike who deign to look more closely beyond the island paradise's still dazzling centerpiece attraction - its 4-kilometre, powdery, white-sand shoreline - would not find it hard to spot troubling signs of environmental distress.
While the main beach front remains relatively pristine-looking, especially at low tide when the water recedes to expose a greater expanse on which visitors can enjoy a leisurely walk or marvel at a fantastic sunset, the back portion of the choice establishments lining the shoreline speak of a different reality.
To walk from the beach to the main road that serves as the central spine of White Beach, connecting Stations 1 to 3 on the island's west coast where the majority of the tourist horde congregates, is to be rudely awakened to the shabby, unsightly ills that are blighting Boracay due mainly to its reckless, pell-mell development.
The dirt streets in between establishments leading to the highway are pock-marked with stagnant puddles of dank water.
A rank smell pervades these corners, hinting at the huge sewage problem that bedevils the island, and that has been cited by Malacañang as its raison d'etre in calling for Boracay's temporary closure, to allow it to "heal" and recover environmentally.
Lot owners appear to have been left on their own to build structures as they saw fit, leading to a crazy quilt of buildings and concrete developments with no organised design or master plan.
The main highway itself, narrow to begin with, is now a traffic-choked ribbon of dust and heat, with garbage in parts, unfinished civic works, flooded gutters, indiscriminately parked vehicles, and nonpedestrian spaces where tourists checking out the establishments lining the road are forced to dance a dangerous tango with cars and tricycles rumbling by.
Boracay is not only overcrowded and overburdened; clearly, it has also been grossly mismanaged.
Where have all the millions of pesos in environmental fees collected from every visitor through the years gone?
From only about 400,000 in 2004, this spit of land now hosts over 2 million visitors a year, and the tide remains as yet unregulated.
"It is moving toward alarming levels in terms of carrying capacity and solid waste management," Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources warned in January.
Having said that, is President Duterte's blunt directive to close Boracay entirely, along with the threat to send no less than the Marines to enforce the closure order, the appropriate solution to the problem?
Boracay locals and establishment owners are within their right to chafe at this seemingly indiscriminate, knee-jerk course of action.
Where are the studies, first of all, to pinpoint which areas of Boracay need the most urgent attention, or whether such a blanket closure is indeed the most beneficial recourse?
And how would this impact on the 19,000 or so residents and workers whose livelihoods depend on the daily running of the island?
To those fundamental concerns have been added another wrinkle - one too suspicious to ignore.
Even as Malacañang has forcefully batted for shuttering Boracay completely on account of its supposed environmental ruin, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. confirmed that it has given the go-signal to a Chinese-backed casino entity to begin building an integrated resort on the island.
In fact, not one but two casino operations are set to rise - one approved back in 2014, and the other the new US$500 million (S$656 million) project by Macau's Galaxy Entertainment Group that was signed this week.
Save Boracay, to be sure.
But two giant corporate resorts further straining the island's fragile condition, while also shoving aside, whether deliberately or not, smaller Filipino businesses and livelihoods-how is this in any way justifiable?
The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.