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By Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

THE exposure of the blatant violations of environmental protection laws in major tourist destinations, particularly in Boracay and Panglao Island in Bohol, by no less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself, is a strong and clear expression of what should be our priorities and what are our responsibilities.

Some groups had negative reactions about such exposure by President Duterte particularly because of its impact on the tourism sector. The “cesspool” tag on Boracay is bad publicity and it effectively discourages both local and foreign tourists to patronize what has been cited as the best beach destination in the country and among the best in the world.

For one, it is for the long-term benefit of Boracay and the Philippines for President Duterte to make such exposure now and not later. If environmental degradation is not stopped now and environmental protection does not become the fundamental operating principle of the tourism industry in Boracay, its tourism value and that of other tourist destination in the country like Bohol and Palawan will, in the near future be lost and will most likely be unrecoverable.

The exposure made by President Duterte is an assertion of the required operationalization of the rule of law in our country. The tourism establishments in Boracay, Bohol and other tourist destinations are and should not be above the law. They do not have a “license” to violate environmental laws simply because they are partly responsible in drawing tourists to these destinations and in improving the tourism performance, and thus the economy, of our country.

While the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the concerned local government units have obviously failed to perform their mandates of enforcing our environmental laws, their belated performance of such mandate is better than continuously allowing environmental degradation through inaction and indifference. At the very least, these government agencies, which are supposed to represent and advance the interest of the Filipino people and not just those in the tourism sector, need to do what President Duterte ordered – effect the immediate closure of all establishments that have violated our laws.

The action of the President is also a clear expression of what we, as a people, should prioritize – environmental protection over economic gains from tourism.

The environment does not belong to the current generation alone. The next generations of Filipinos have a right to our environment as well. It is simply wrong for us to bequeath a Philippines that has become a cesspool to the next generation of Filipinos.