April 14, 2012

Ayala unit boosts fresh water supply to Boracay

Boracay Island as seen from the air.

WITH thousands of holiday revelers expected to converge on the tiny resort island of Boracay this Holy Weekend, they can be assured of better access to clean, fresh water with the recent inauguration of a P126-million submarine water pipeline.

The 1-kilometer pipeline constructed by the Boracay Island Water Co., (BIWC) a subsidiary of the Manila Water Co. Inc., runs from Caticlan to Boracay, and will augment the current 13-year-old pipeline which supplies water tothe island from the mainland Malay town in Aklan.

Manila Water is a unit of the publicly-listedconglomerate Ayala Corp., and commonly known as the East Zone water concessionaire of Metro Manila.

During the inauguration ceremony for the pipeline on Friday, March 30, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. lauded BIWC for the improved water services and wastewater management in Boracay since the company began operating there in 2009.

He said 96 percent of the island population on the island now enjoys round-the-clock water supply, with the quality of its tap water 100-percent compliant with the strict criteria set out by the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water.

“I salute the partnership between Boracay Water, the local government and the [Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority] for turning things around and making things happen here in Boracay. As the premier tourist destination in the country, we need to ensure that the basic services such as water and wastewater services for the locals as well as tourists are well-provided. This is also ensuring the sustainability of the island paradise for the years to come,” he said.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez inaugurates a P126-million, one-kilometer pipeline in Boracay on March 30. Also at the launch are (from left) Malay Mayor John Yap, Aklan Rep. Florencio Miraflores, Jimenez, DOT Region 6 Tourism Council chairman Vicky Ramos, TIEZA general manager Mark Lapid, Manila Water president and CEO Gerardo Ablaza Jr. and BIWC president Virgilio Rivera. (Photo from the Philippine Star)

The BIWC has been upgrading the wastewater management system of the island and hopes to reach its 52-percent target coverage by the end of the year from the current 31-percent coverage. The company’s P78-million project, inaugurated in April 2011, aims to improve the island’s treatment plant located in Barangay Balabag to a world-class facility, and ensure the treated wastewater being flushed back into natural waters is within the strictest environmental standards that will keep its beach pristine.

Last August, BIWC received a P500-million loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines and Security Bank and Trust Corp. to finance its capital expenditures for its projects in Boracay.

The loan, obtained through the Philippine Water Revolving Fund, has the option to be increased to P1 billion. The PWRF is a joint project between the national government, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The fund was set up to help the country meet its own economic and human development targets under the Millennium Development Goals, a United Nations initiative, by 2015.

Boracay Island is the most popular tourist destination in the Philippines with 908,875 visiting in 2011, up 16.6 percent from 2010. In December 2011 alone, arrivals shot up by 34 percent from 2010 figures, generating P1.43 billion in tourism receipts for the government.

From only one airline serving the destination in 2006, now all major Philippine carriers as well as chartered international flights are bringing in local and foreign tourists direct to Kalibo, the capital of Aklan, or Caticlan, the jump-off point to Boracay.

Last year business tycoon Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp. also funded the renovation of the Caticlan airport terminal, while its main runway is now being lengthened to accommodate jets.

Unfortunately, the hordes of tourists over the years have put a strain on the island’s fragile ecosystem. In 1997,the Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared the waters around unsafe for swimming as its tests yielded the dreaded E. coli bacteria, which is usually found in fecal matter.

This pushed the resort owners in Boracay to adopt stringent measures to help clean the island and prevent the contamination of its waters.

(My piece was originally published on April 3, 2012 in the BusinessMirror.)

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