The other wonder of Boracay
Danilo Araña Arao
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Youngblood), 12 January 1995, p. 9
MALAY, Aklan --- We have all heard of the scenic spots and pristine greenery of Boracay Island, a five-minute boat ride from Caticlan, Aklan. As an old saying goes, one has to be there to know, and, wonder of all wonders, I am here right now.
Indeed, our rich natural resources are exemplified by the island's white sand and abundant seashells and corals. In fact, there was once a mini-series on Channel 9 on the goings-on at the island, in particular Club Panoly.
At this point, I realize the government's rationale behind its decision to include Boracay Island as a priority tourism area in the 1994 Investment Priorities Plan. With a good marketing program, how can the government lose? Of course, revenue collection is still an issue, but that's another matter.
Anyway, tourists have come in droves to Boracay this month to witness the popular Ati-Atihan. Unfortunately, our group left in a huff, so we did not see the fireworks display and all-night dancing. A manager of a popular resort confides that this is the season when business peaks. Foreigners rent cottages at astronomical prices, the cheapest being $30 per day.
Take it from me, a lot of things can be found in Boracay.
An afternoon stroll on Long Beach gives one an eyeful of topless Caucasians who leave nothing to the imagination. A resident here mentions that unlike before, nude sunbathing is not allowed anymore, because parents of children working there objected to it.
There are also some tourists in the mountain fastnesses. Those who hunger for adventure usually trek to Puka Island, not to go wind surfing but to visit the bat cave. Actually, our group went there to buy the famous Puka shells, but a friend insisted that we try going inside a cave.
To make the long story short, most of us chickened out upon seeing the hanging bats and pointed rocks at the cave's entrance. We even got more worried after hearing that a UP student died there only last year. This student, our guide said, thought that he could swin through the waters upon reaching the cave's end. It took several hours for a diver's club to retrieve his already bloated body.
Only eight of us took up Nature's challenge, and it was really quite an unforgettable experience, not to mention slippery and muddy. I stood in the same place where the late UP student dived and drowned, and I only nodded my head and murmured: "If only that guy were not so stubborn..."
Much as I wanted to visit the popular Club Panoly, the spirit was willing but the wallet was weak. Indeed, a lot of things can really be found in Boracay --- for a price. Some places charge in dollars and do not accept pesos. While most stalls accept the peso, one needs to have a large amount of cash to last through a week's stay. An eight-ounce softdrink usually costs P10, and the cheapest souvenir and T-shirt go for P75 and P100, respectively.
When I jokingly told a vendor that their prices were higher than those in Manila, she reasoned out that it was no problem since tourists could afford them anyway. "Para sa turista lang naman ang Boracay," she said. "Bakit, marami ka bang Pinoy na nakikita sa paligid mo?"
Which makes me think about the "other side" to all this talk about the wonders of Boracay, as I skimmed through a torn brochure apparently thrown or left at an empty table. Savoring the taste of a P20 pineapple juice and a sandwich a friend gave me, I remembered Mika, a seven-year-old girl at Puka Island who begged me to buy her bottleful of shells for only P5. Upon learning that it was my first time to set foot on their island, she gave me an unsolicited advice" "Pag punta mo roon (stalls selling seashells), ibebenta ito sa 'yo ng P50. Dadayain ka po nila."
I did not believe her at first. But as it turned out, shells and other Boracay products are priced arbitrarily depending on one's appearance. When I came back better dressed to get a shell which cost P10 an hour earlier, the vendor wanted to charge me P50. Obviously, she did not recognize me.
So what's the bottom line? In the final analysis, I really cannot blame some Boracay residents for trying to pull a fast one on their customers since their main source of livelihood is tourism. They're as good as dead if tourists one day realized that Boracay is not worth visiting anymore, hence the need to maximize opportunities.
Maybe I'm just overreacting, but I think the situation in Boracay is just reflective of our government's undue dependence on foreign capital, whether in the form of aid, investments, or in this case, tourism revenues.
Such dependence is taking its toll on the likes of Mika who are forced to work at an early age to make ends meet. It also degrades women like Aling Lucia, a former teacher who now works as masseuse at Long Beach. It also breeds a damaging culture among children, who are programmed to say, "Hallo, Amerikano, give money!" every time a stranger walks the shore, whether he or she is a Filipino or any foreigner.
There is indeed the other wonder of Boracay: that of the residents whose smiles in front of the tourist hide a lot of sad stories.
True, Boracay has the best that Nature has to offer. Too bad the foreigners are getting the most of it.
Danny Arao, 26, is writing his master's thesis on the political economy of GATT.