Jolting moments
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 24, 2019 - 12:00am

If we are to believe claims by the opposition and administration critics, Chinese-owned establishments have supposedly taken over the island resort of Boracay now that it’s back to business. The purported increase of number of Chinese-run enterprises in Boracay was apparently stirred in time for the first year anniversary this Friday, April 26, when President Rodrigo Duterte closed down to business and the tourist entry to our country’s most popular island resort while it underwent massive environmental rehabilitation.

Almost a year ago, President Duterte fulminated over the “cesspool” that Boracay has become due to long years of ecological and environmental abuse from tourists and residents as well. On marching orders of the President, an inter-agency Task Force Boracay jumped into action to wage an all out clean-up, rehabilitation and improvements all over Boracay that led to its nearly six months of closure.

These claims cropped up earlier this week after certain senatorial wannabes called the government’s attention to supposed complaints of Boracay residents and business community about Chinese-run establishments now lording over in the island resort following its re-opening to tourists and return to usual business. Understandably, the senatorial aspirant just found an issue that could carry him enough media mileage at this point of time as the campaign period is nearing its end before the May 13 mid-term elections.

Long before this issue cropped up, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat already reported Boracay is back to its brisk business of drawing in the most number of foreign and local tourists flocking to the island resort. In fact, the DOT Secretary expects the attraction of white sand beaches and crystal blue waters of Boracay will draw more tourist arrivals that seasonally peak during these summer months in the Philippines.

How’s Boracay doing so far, one year after it was closed to the public? This we asked Romulo-Puyat who we invited to our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last April 3 at Café Adriatico. During its six-month closure last year, she reported, the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force that included the DOT, did their respective rehabilitation assignments.

On the part of the DOT, Romulo-Puyat disclosed the TIEZA (or the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Authority) is on track with the construction of the new sewerage and drainage system for the entire island resort. At a total cost of P1 billion, she cited, TIEZA is committed to finish the entire project by early part of year 2020. Illegal sewage connections on the island’s drainage system are blamed for the coliform and dirty water coming out of the drainage outfall.

To date, she was told by the DENR that the level of coliform bacteria in Boracay is now down to zero to 15 from the very high level of one million coliform bacteria before the rehabilitation. The DENR, she added, is regularly doing the tests on the coliform level every two weeks to maintain the present condition of Boracay Island, especially during the peak season.

While there is “no more LaBoracay” or any other beach parties allowed in the beaches, the DOT permits less noisy celebration gatherings since the soft opening of Boracay in October last year provided they comply with certain rules and regulations. She reiterated the DOT is simply implementing the existing national laws and local ordinances as far as beach parties, smoking and drinking on Boracay are concerned.

Under existing local ordinances and national laws now strictly enforced in the entire Boracay, she mentioned smoking and drinking are not allowed in the public beach; parties must not be held within the “25+5” easement; and the maximum allowed noise level is 55 decibels in nighttime for open areas.

While doing this column at my desk at The STAR office in Port Area, Manila late Monday afternoon, I thought somebody pushed so hard my swivel chair. But when I turned, the pushing became stronger. It finally dawned on me it was actually an earthquake. In almost five seconds, I could only mutter “Oh my God!” four times before I was able to stand up and rushed out of the ground floor of our office building.

The fire alarm immediately rang to alert everyone to get out of our building as the lights flickered off and on. Outside though, we noticed that the wires at electricity posts around our building were swinging wildly. So we stood as far away as we can to stay safely out of harm’s way.

Initially, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) measured the tremor at 5.7 magnitude in Metro Manila, with its epicenter in Castillejos, Zambales. Phivolcs later corrected the quake’s strength to magnitude 6.1 Luzon-wide.

As if this tremor was not enough to shake us into fear, an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude jolted yesterday Visayas, with the epicenter in San Julian in Eastern Samar.  

Sadly, a number of lives were lost during the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Luzon, many of whom were crushed to death in a four-story supermarket building in Porac, Pampanga.

Phivolcs chief Undersecretary Renato Solidum Jr. noted the two earthquakes were “strong” but are not of the magnitude of the feared “big one” tremor that is really deadly. While there were no major quake damage caused in many high-rise buildings in Metro Manila, whoever built this collapsed supermarket building in Porac must be held responsible for the loss of lives of those people.

Those were jolting moments but we must always keep our presence of mind to keep us alive.

*      *      *

Amid the looming power rate hike after a series of rotating blackouts in Metro Manila, we have invited Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who earlier announced plans to conduct a full blown public hearing on the power supply situation in the Philippines. Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on energy as well as the Senate committee on economic affairs, will be our featured guest in today’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate.

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