Exclusive by Raïssa Robles
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, is conducting a probe on Boracay. But she’s omitted disclosing during the probe that the conglomerate of her family owns a hotel there and is now selling high-end condos under the brand name Costa de la Vista.
This week, Villar announced that along with other senators, they would ask President Rodrigo Duterte not to shut down the entire resort island for 60 days.
Villar said they were recommending that only the non-compliant establishments be shut down.
She also told ANC Headstart anchor Karen Davila today: “I came from business. That’s bad. You don’t close down. It’s bad publicity for Boracay at maraming magko-complain kasi parang kahit ka nag-comply, mapa-punish ka. Everybody will be punished. Dapat we punish those who did not comply and we reward those who comply.” [It’s bad publicity for Boracay and many will complain because even if you comply, you will get punished. Everybody will be punished. We should punish those who did not comply…]
She did not disclose that among those who would be “punished” was her family conglomerate Vista Land, which owns the 54-room Boracay Sands, bought for P157 million in 2016.
A partial closure of Boracay would probably benefit Boracay Sands, assuming it was compliant with environmental laws.
I saw some tweets on Twitter today questioning Senator Villar’s possible conflict of interest in the Boracay probe.
And so I called up her office and was put through to her media relations officer Lyn Novencido, who said she would relay my questions to the senator. These are the questions I gave.
1) Does Senator Villar’s family own commercial establishments on Boracay?
2) If the family does, did she disclose this during her probe?
Novencido got back to me and said, “the senator (Villar) would like to let you know that as a senator, she is not involved in her family’s business and it’s best to ask the company instead. Thank you.”
True, Senator Villar is no longer directly involved in Vista Land. Nor is she listed by name as one of the top 100 stockholders of the listed company.
However, conflict of interest is not just measured by involvement. It is also measured by whether immediate members of her family would benefit from the probe. Her spouse, former Senator Manuel Villar, Jr., heads Vista Land.
If Duterte’s shutdown is modified by Senator Cynthia Villar’s recommendation (whether or not it is a consensus among senators), then it presents a clear benefit to the Villar-owned conglomerate.
Senator Cynthia Villar is up for reelection next year.
Two other things bother me about the Boracay probe.
One, the Senate investigation clearly showed that one of the problems of Boracay is overdevelopment and rampant growth.
The Villar-owned conglomerate is a latecomer in the rush to develop Boracay. It has been selling 1000 vacation condos for up to P7.3 million each, and plans to put up stores, restaurants and a convention center on 6.5 hectares at the cost of at least P2.2 billion.
With this new situation in Boracay, will Vista Land be told to stop? Or continue?
Is the Vista Land development the kind of development needed by this island to sustain itself environmentally?
Is the Vista Land development connected to the island’s sewage system?
The second thing that bothers me about the Senate probe on Boracay is this. The development and management of the island had long been “devolved” to the local government units in the area.
It has turned out that the devolution did not work. In fact, it made things much worse.
The local governments did not do a proper job of protecting Boracay from environmental degradation.
Now, just think.
If the Philippines adopts a federal system, it will mean a wholesale devolution of powers to local government units nationwide.
With federalism, the entire country could turn into one big stinking Boracay. Or, in the words of President Rodrigo Duterte, a “cesspool.”