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He must be the de facto president of Boracay beach, for he resides in a resort called White House in one of the most coveted spots in Station 1. But clad in a simple shirt and pair of shorts, it is easy to mistake Leonard Tirol for just another tourist. That’s interesting, because this is a man who people think owns Boracay.
Tirol is quick to correct wrong impressions. “I don’t own 50% of Boracay, like they say. It just so happened I came from a family — a big family — that inherited the land of our grand patriarch, Don Ciriaco Señeres Tirol, Sr. His land was the only titled land apart from that of the Elizaldes’.” As to the state of his acquisitions, he says, “Other properties, we’ve sold; the others leased out.”
He also refuses to agree with the observation that Boracay is overdeveloped, saying that there’s a great misunderstanding behind this claim, especially with people from the Department of Tourism. “Fortunately, Mayor John Yap is on the right track,” he says. “Mayor Yap is now in close coordination with the private sector. There used to be some antagonism between the public and private sectors here. Our concerns as owners are now being listened to.”
What are his impressions on the state of Boracay of 2010? The man doesn’t mince words. For one, “[t]here are too many transient people in Boracay who shouldn’t be around. They should be shipped back to the mainland. We should decongest Boracay.”
As for the ambulant vendors plying their trade everywhere. He says, “They are good for Boracay, but they must not pester the tourists, or we lose them all. They must stay in one place. If tourists want to buy or do anything, they will surely try to find it — no need to constantly fleece them. We should look to Thailand for example. Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai — everything there is regulated.”
Pressed for an opinion regarding the ecological state of the island, he says, “We want more eco-initiatives from the private sector. We also need more sewage treatment plants. San Miguel and Petron have started the ball rolling by supporting the initiative of government by replanting corals, placing buoys, and building lifeguard stations. I hope other companies would follow suit.” But, he adds, “Please, no billboards.”
Isn’t Boracay too expensive for most people? He says, “It’s because it’s a jewel. You pay for Boracay just as you spend a sum for a jewel.” Ho noted that Boracay’s sand has no iron, only fine coral granules. “That is why your feet don’t get hot and blistery.”
If he had his way, Tirol wants all pumpboats and motorized bancas removed from the beachfront. “I wish the LGU (local government unit) could build two marinas for motorized bancas and pumboats north and south of the island. The area near Mt. Luho on the north side is the best place for a marina. The jetskis should be moved to the mainland because they destroy the coral reefs. Right now, the corals are dead, there are no fishes, so we need to rehabilitate the coral seabed. For the Bulabog side, I am hoping we could build a breakwater at the edge of the reef to turn the area into a natural windsurfing and kiteboarding haven. Right now, resorts like 7 Stones can’t even use the beach because of too many pumpboats parked in front.”
There is reportedly an ongoing plan to build a bridge from Caticlan to Boracay. Tirol says he’s afraid it will spell the end of Boracay. “One attraction of Boracay is its relative remoteness. A bridge to Boracay would be like paving the road to heaven, but we all know that it is hard to get to heaven.”
He also wishes for the roll-on/roll-off vessels (RORO) to be moved away from Boracay. “Only cruise liners should dock at the jetty port in Cagban. Roros should instead have a port in Pandan and Ibajay (both in Aklan).” This, he clarified, is meant to be a deterrent against petty crimes that are mostly committed by outsiders. “I hope I am not misunderstood. We can’t afford to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. All I wish is for Boracay to increase its tourist arrival rate.”
On a more hopeful note, he says there is now a coordination of security matters as initiated by the private sector. The Commodore of Philippine Coast Guard and the Auxiliary District Director of Eastern Visayas, he reports, has formed the I.C.E. or Island Composite Enforcer. “This is fully supported by the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI), as presided by Loubelle Cann.