Aklan guv mulls data synch to solve Boracay capacity woes

(Photo courtesy of ERS)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores on Friday said synchronizing the data between the provincial government, the local government of Malay, Aklan; and the national government can ease worries on exceeding the carrying capacity of Boracay Island in time for the Labor Day weekend.

In a press conference hosted by the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF), Miraflores denied the claims that the island exceeded its carrying capacity during the Holy Week holidays.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat recently warned the local governments in the province over the alleged excess of the 19,215 recommended capacity of the island.

Puyat cited that more than 22,000 people were on the island during Maundy Thursday (April 14) and Good Friday (April 15).

But Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista said that was not the case, citing unsynchronized data on tourist arrivals.

Bautista said that the BIATF is currently in discussions on adjusting the carrying capacity on the island, which was based on data gathered during the 2018 rehabilitation of the island.

“There was just a problem, the data or the figures given were not synchronized. I think it will be corrected. There were already discussions to look at the carrying capacity. The [current] carrying capacity was based on the previous years, during the closure and rehabilitation [in 2018],” he added.

Miraflores expounded further, citing that their tourist data was based on the actual number of those who pay terminal fees at the Caticlan Jetty Port and upon landing at the Cagban Jetty Port on the island.

He said 12,176 tourists arrived in the island on April 14, but 4,320 departures from the island were also recorded. The Aklan provincial government’s data, as mentioned by the governor in the briefing, indicated that they have a daily average of 6,000 tourists for the month of April.

He also said that the number of tourists who left was not recorded by the Malay municipal government.

Because of this, the provincial government will seek to synchronize its data with that of the Malay municipal government.

“There was just a difference [in] the reporting of the number of tourists that came in and out [of Boracay]. There were missed figures, where those who came in were recorded but those who came out weren’t recorded. Technically, we did not breach the island’s carrying capacity,” Miraflores said.

“We weren’t able to reach [19,000]. I don’t have the [exact] numbers here, but what happened was that, if you look at Malay’s tourism report, they accumulated [tourist arrivals] on April 9 to 11 to the arrivals of [April 11] but they did not record the departures on April 9 and 10. There is a departure every day, so that is what happened,” he explained further.

“We have agreed with [Bautista] to synchronize our numbers because we are basing our numbers on the actual tourists that pay the terminal fees at the jetty ports in Caticlan and Cagban. We have agreed to synchronize the records so that there will be no misunderstanding in the future.”

The governor also mulled a cap on the Aklan Quick Response (AkQuiRe) Online Health Declaration Card (OHDC) for tourists coming to the island.

But they do not have the exact timeline as to when the system would be in effect.

“We are now looking into the issuance of the QR codes, that we might put a cap on the number of tourists based on the QR codes that they are getting from our system. Right now, the system is, if you apply for Boracay travel, the QR code is automatically given, there is no validation. But we could also put a cap on those systems, so we can do that, and that’s what we will be doing in the next few days,” he said.

“I have instructed my IT people how to do it in such a way that there will be no disruption of the arrivals of our tourists or their vacation time. It’s a little bit difficult, but I think it can be done if we just make a proper study of this and give ample time to our tourists to adjust to the new guidelines,” he added.

On tourists’ violations of environmental laws, Bautista admitted that there are problems when collecting fines from tourists, but the municipal government is trying to alleviate the situation by placing a collection officer who would collect specifically for this purpose.

“We have already placed a person at the [Municipal] Treasurer’s Office to issue receipt. We are looking for ways on that. Because if [the violator] is caught on a Sunday but will be leaving on Monday, and there would be no person collecting [the fine], then that would be the reason,” Bautista stated.

“We need to collect [fines], but there have been cases where there are no collectors, but we cannot bar the person who would be leaving when it cannot be collected from them, so we may have to send them a letter,” he added.

Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation and Management Group (BIARMG) General Manager Matin Despi said that they are also mulling to include violations into the QR code system to stop violators from leaving the island without settling their fines.

“We are also suggesting in the BIARMG to the local governments of Malay and Aklan that maybe it can be incorporated also in the QR system, wherein if they would go out of the island, they would be automatically flagged that a citation ticket was issued against them,” Despi said.

As to the additional numbers in the carrying capacity, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said that it will have to be determined in 2023.

“Usually, it takes 5 years to review the carrying capacity, depending on the development of the islands, so we are looking at 2023 before a new carrying capacity would be commissioned for review and as of this time, I think the decision is to maintain the 19,215 [daily capacity],” said Densing.

The BIATF is set to expire upon the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term on June 30.