Doing a Boracay on Laguna de Bay

I am more than convinced that the political will and resolve of President Duterte and his administration will make the "Boracay story" possible on Laguna de Bay.

One of the major events of 2018 was the decision of the Duterte administration to close and rehabilitate Boracay. After President Rodrigo Duterte branded it as a "cesspool" during one of his speeches, an inter-agency task force was formed to plan the closure and rehabilitation of the resort island. Among the concerns that had to be addressed included raw sewage being disposed on the waters surrounding the Boracay through hidden pipes, resorts and other structures that were built over wetlands, poor garbage disposal by business establishments and overcrowding.

The plan to close Boracay was opposed by some business owners, as well as the political opportunists and obstructionists that used propaganda such as displacement of labor and alleged "Chinese infiltration" through "the building of a new casino" to smear on it. Despite that, the Duterte administration was determined to close and rehabilitate the island. For several months, Boracay was closed from tourists while the inter-agency task force addressed the most pressing concerns while also re-planning and rebuilding the island's infrastructure.

After months of being closed for rehabilitation, Boracay was opened once again to tourists. The beaches of the island and the waters surrounding it are now clean, the wetlands have been restored and the structures illegally built over them are gone, the garbage disposal problem is already being worked out, a cap on the number of tourists who can visit the island is being enforced, the roads and other vital infrastructure are slowly but surely being rebuilt, and there is no such thing as a "Chinese-owned casino" on the island. The move by the Duterte administration earned praise both here and abroad, a testament of President Duterte and other officials' political will and resolve.

The Boracay clean-up sparked calls for similar courses of action to taken on other places across the country with similar problems. More recently, the government said that areas such as El Nido in Palawan, Baguio City and Manila Bay will each have their own clean-up programs. There are indications that more areas will be added on the list in the future.

One of those places that hopefully will get the attention of and be rehabilitated by the government is Laguna de Bay. For many years, the country's largest freshwater lake has provided food and livelihood for millions of people in Metro Manila, Laguna and Rizal, especially barangays located on its shores. The beauty of the lake was immortalized through the paintings of National Artist for Visual Arts Fernando Amorsolo and the written works of patriot Jose Rizal, who hailed from Calamba City, Laguna, one of the cities and municipalities located along its shores.

However, runoff water from agriculture and industry, the building of a large number of commercial fish pens, the destruction of forests at the Sierra Madre, and pollution of tributaries and its lone outlet, the Pasig River, caused the quality of the water to decline at an alarming rate and Laguna de Bay itself to become heavily silted, resulting to perennial flooding during severe weather or when the lake has a higher water level.

I urge President Duterte and officials of the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of Interior and Local Government to draft a plan on how to rehabilitate Laguna de Bay, bringing it back to its former glory and to the communities that once benefited from it.
First, I hope that the plan to dredge Laguna de Bay, which was supposed to be funded by the government of Belgium and done during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but was shelved for apparently no valid reason by Benigno Aquino III, will be revisited. By revisiting and finally implementing the plan, along with the need to address problems involving the damage to the rainforests where most of its tributaries have their sources and the removal of the topsoil due to residential, agricultural and commercial activities, the lake will regain some depth, as silt will be removed. When done, flooding along lake shore communities in Metro Manila, Laguna and Rizal will be reduced since there will be more room for water.

Second, the need to remove large fish pens on Laguna de Bay must be implemented. Fish pens are among the major contributors to the degradation of water quality and build up of silt, and reduction of the lake's navigability. It is high time to remove 90 percent of them from the lake while providing necessary aid and livelihood assistance to workers who will be displaced as part of the process of rehabilitation process.

Third, water quality of Laguna de Bay and the Pasig River can improve significantly if the problems of the lake's tributaries will also be addressed. Most of the pollutants and silt that contaminate the lake come from the rivers, streams and creeks that feed it. I suggest that the authorities take a three-front approach on addressing the poor water quality, pollution and siltation on Laguna de Bay- the problems coming from the communities located along the lake shore, the problems coming from the tributaries feeding the lake and the problems on Laguna de Bay itself.

Fourth, there is a need to re-examine the feasibility of digging navigation channels on Laguna de Bay and Pasig River, and establishing a ferry system connecting the two waterways. Various sectors have been pushing for the establishment of a Laguna de Bay-Pasig River ferry system as part of a multi-modal transport network within the Greater Manila Area, where they are located. The digging of navigation channels can be done as part of the plan to dredge the lake and also the Pasig River to remove excess silt. As for the ferry system, I suggest the ferry stations on the Laguna de Bay be established in Taguig or Muntinlupa, Santa Rosa, Calamba or Los Banos, Santa Cruz, Paete or Siniloan, Tanay, Talim Island and Binangonan, all of which are connected to the ferry stations located along the Pasig River.

Lastly, speaking of Talim Island, the large island in the middle of Laguna de Bay where some barangays of Binangonan and Cardona are located, it is high time to build a bridge connecting it to the mainland. For years, the only way to get to the island from the mainland is by boat, making it extremely difficult to provide basic services and transport commodities to residents. I believe that building a bridge connecting Talim Island to the mainland from Cardona, aside from connecting the island to the Laguna de Bay-Pasig River ferry system, will solve the problems mention, aside from bringing long overdue economic opportunities to the island itself.

I am more than convinced that the political will and resolve of President Duterte and his administration will make the "Boracay story" possible on Laguna de Bay. It is the source of nourishment and livelihood for the many who live along its shores, which is why it has to be saved. Hopefully, Laguna de Bay, the lake immortalized by Amorsolo and Rizal through their works, will see the same renaissance as Boracay under the Duterte administration.

About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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