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Christmas in Crisis

By David Goldberg

Artwork by Sigmund Torre

David Goldberg is a Swiss citizen and a Boracay Island resident since 1990.

The peaceful and for many, the profitable Christmas Day 2019 that they looked forward to turned out to be a nightmare: The island of Boracay was directly in the eye of typhoon “Ursula,” which devastated huge parts of Northern Panay.

On December 25, 2019, after five in the afternoon, when the howling winds had died down and the rain was lighter, people came out of their houses and hotel rooms to look around and check the aftermath. It was a shock: everywhere fallen trees, toppled electric posts and debris from roofs, pieces of glass, broken solar panels and more, much more. But this was only the beginning. What followed was a series of crises, many avoidable.

First was the diesel crisis: Diesel for back-up generators started to run out and only a few could get diesel which was not enough for all. A requirement for a permit couldn’t be secured as there was nobody working in the government offices. Only by January 2 was the order given to allow people to bring in diesel, seven days after the typhoon hit the island and too late for many smaller establishments that had to close their places due to lack of fuel. This, in the middle of the “super peak” season.

At the same time there was a cash crisis: No ATM machines were working and banks had no internet connection.

Then came the transport crisis: Fewer and fewer e-trikes operated due to lack of electricity to charge batteries. This resulted in very long lines of people waiting for transport. Overcharging was rampant. Many empty tricycles roamed the streets, but they were looking for “special trips” instead of serving the people. After this, the garbage crisis erupted: Garbage was not collected anymore and piled up everywhere. This had less to do with the typhoon, but mismanagement of the garbage collection and disposal by the local government.

Sad to say that the least visible people in the aftermath of typhoon Ursula were the people from the local government. They should have been in the forefront of managing the chaos left by the storm. Particularly the garbage crisis which showed that the local government is incapable of managing an island like Boracay. Instead of looking for modern solutions to garbage disposal (yes, there are many) they signed a murky contract with a company not capable of managing it and with an outdated garbage collection and disposal system. Let’s not forget that Boracay had a good functioning Material Recovery Facility in 2005 and 2006, which not only made money and many good products with recycled materials, but was also an outstanding example of how to manage garbage throughout the Philippines. But it was not followed through – politics and small mindedness stopped it – and today Boracay Island is a place with uncollected garbage everywhere.

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