Following the announcement of Boracay’s official closure for six months and the declaration of the island being an “agricultural land” that would be given back to the farmers according to President Rodrigo Duterte, Filipinos are baffled whether the island is possible to cultivate and farm on.

While the island is best known for its pristine white sand beaches, breath-taking sunsets, and large influx of tourists from year to year, the earlier Boracay Island dwellers used to depend on copra and fish. Tourism flourished when the natural resources began to deteriorate. The rest then, as they say, is history.

However, with the rampant and continuous degradation of the once-crystal-clear waters and white sand shores, the island’s development plans as well as its land use are in question.

Development plans

In January 3 earlier this year, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between urban planner architect Felino Palafox and Boracay mayor Ciceron Cawaling was signed for the formulation of the Master Development Plan for Boracay, which may expand to the entire Malay, Aklan. The said master plan is expected to be formulated within seven months.

The local government aims to include sustainable architectural and tourism infrastructures, and hopes to entice more tourists.

However, with the closure of Boracay, who knows what will happen to the formulation of the island’s development master plan.

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Land disputes

In line with the development of Boracay, land ownership and land use have been two of the several issues revolving around the island. After the tourism boom in the famous island, the then-agricultural use of the land became tourism and commercial, paving the way to local and foreign land “claimants,” as referred to by the Court, establishing their residences and businesses on the island.

While these “claimants” have been paying their tax for decades, they do not officially own a title to the lands they’ve claimed and developed as their own. The ones who are granted titles are the heirs to Ciriaco Tirol in 1993—the only exception to the 2008 Supreme Court ruling upholding then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Presidential Proclamation No. 1064 issued on May 22, 2006.

Land classification

Prior to PGMA’s proclamation, Boracay’s lands were unclassified, therefore presumed to be state-owned, and its lands as tourist and marine zones in Proclamation No. 1801 by late President Ferdinand Marcos in 1979. With then PGMA’s proclamation, the Boracay Island was classified as approximately 40% forest land and protected area and 60% alienable and disposable, and therefore subject to private ownership.

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The confusion on how the lands of Boracay should be used ensues, especially when President Duterte ordered the closure of the 1,032-hectare island starting April 26 to make way for the “land reform” the island will be undergoing because it was, according to then PGMA’s proclamation, agricultural and forest land subject to distribution.

While the old Boracay thrived in copra and fish, would it be possible to farm in Boracay now? The white sand area would never be fit for farming, but we are yet to see how the master-plan-less land reform project in Boracay will be able to reap what they’re sowing. 

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