A troubling development for tourism
THE SOUTHERN BEAT  - Rolly Espina () - January 19, 2008 - 12:00am

Negrenses enthusiastically greeted yesterday the opening of the P5.4-billion new airport in Silay City. And despite the lack of transport facilities, many trooped to the new airport in droves.

After all, they don’t have any choice but to simply go along with the idea of boarding and disembarking from the three airlines using the new airport.

But there was a more worrisome development that could undercut the tourism industry of Western Visayas. These were the two gunfights that erupted in Boracay last Sunday and Wednesday.

Tourism regional director Edwin Trompeta downplayed the two incidents as having taken place far from the area frequented by tourists. But that may not actually relieve the apprehensions of tourists on the peace and order situation in Boracay. So far, no word has been received indicating any mass exodus of tourists from the world-famous island resort.

These twin gunplays shattered the “relative peace enjoyed by tourists on this paradise island,” was how Lucas and Jun Arnold Aguirre of Panay News described the incidents involving land disputes.

The two successive gunfights led to the death of a former military man and the wounding of two others, including a security guard and a 12-year-old boy.

Regional Firearms Explosives, Security and Guards supervisor Eduardo Ebon claimed that the situation is now under control. But some 21 private security guards are now under investigation for the twin incidents.

As culled from reports in the regional dailies, radio and television, the first incident last Sunday involved a dispute over a property separately owned by the Tupaz family and sold to Maria Lourdes Mesa Van Der Tak and the Brent International School.

In the Monday incident, former Army sergeant Vicente Maming was killed. A 12-year-old boy and a blue guard were wounded.

The blue guards involved were reported to be employees of four agencies, but two of them were allegedly not registered with the regional FESAGS. Ebon, however, said they may have secured permits from Aklan authorities. Strange.

But the bothersome thing was that the gunbattle lasted for an hour before the Boracay Special Tourism Police unit arrived and requested for reinforcements from the Philippine Army.

Despite his efforts to downplay the twin incidents, Trompeta admitted over radio dySI that tourism officials had a meeting with Boracay authorities, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

What made matters worse was that one of the disputed properties was reportedly sold to a firm owned by Aklan Gov. Catalino Marquez. This was the one where Sgt. Maming was killed by blue guards. It was not clear whether the 21 security guards of the Triple A Agency had registered with the FESAGS.

Maming reportedly stormed Sitio Cagban in Barangay Manok Manok owned by Marquez’s group. He was accompanied by 20 men.

So far, however, the negative impact on Boracay tourism has still to be monitored but definitely, that would generate a backlash.

Land ownership in Boracay is a sensitive issue. This, after 2006 when President Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1064 that sought to classify more than half of the resort island into public agricultural land open to public bidding.

The first incident involved the Tupaz family and the Van Der Tak and Brent International School.

Watch out for more developments over the unfortunate incidents that could undercut the tourism lure of Boracay.

Meanwhile, Vice President Noli de Castro, accompanied by DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Rep. Mikey Arroyo of Pampanga formally opened the new Silay airport in Silay City. Among the top guests who attended it were acting Negros Occidental Gov. Isidro Zayco, Silay City Mayor Jose Montelibano, and Talisay Mayor Eric Saratan. Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia was reportedly snubbed; his name omitted inadvertently in the invitation. But Mendoza pointed out that he was invited.

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