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Dust in the Wind: Lives Turned to Rubble

Demolishing lives to pave paradise for tourism

By Freida Dario-Santiago

Some of our brethren are now facing insurmountable grief, loss and uncertainty, as their homes and only means of livelihood are being unjustly demolished by the wrecking balls of power.

One day after the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that had previously prevented any demolition orders to be executed had expired, at 8 a.m. of November 7th (a Thursday), a large group of officials from the Malay Local Government and from the Boracay Inter-Agency Rehabilitation Management Group (BIARMG) ambushed a peaceful neighborhood at the beachfront of Bulabog Beach, known as the “number one kiteboarding beach” in Asia.

The case was scheduled to go to court on Monday. Until such time, a gentleman’s agreement entered into in open court was in place “that the Malay LGU shall not implement the Demolition Orders until after the Regional Trial Court (RTC) resolves the Bulabog Residents’ prayer for issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction.”

It was not honored.


Instead, just as the kids went off to school that morning, an army of armed police, military and SWAT teams, and workers with their jackhammers with a backhoe in toe had taken the residents by surprise. Without warning, they were forced to immediately evacuate their families from their homes, and to watch in horror as Malay LGU and BIARMG officials brazenly tore down everything they had, razing their present and futures to the ground.

The target of the demolitions were 10 residential homes, small shops and hotels/inns, and apartment structures alleged to be encroaching the 25+5 easement rule along a portion of Bulabog Beach.

The Bulabog 10 and affected families: Aira Hotel, Ventoso Residences (household of 5 with 2 children aged 13 & 6), Freestyle Academy Kite Surfing School (household of 3 with a child aged 4), Kite Center at Banana Bay (household of 4), Wind Riders Inn (household of 8 with 2 children aged 12 & 13), Pahuwayan Suites (household of 3 with 2 children aged 13 & 6), Boracay Gems (1 resident), Unit 101 and Unit 107 of 7 Stones Boracay Suites (household of 4 with 2 children aged 13 & 5), and Lumbung Residences.

I watched this harrowing scene unfold in disbelief, especially as many of us glimpsed the stoic expressions and the occasional insensitive smirks on the officials’ faces, as they were literally face-to-face with the helpless victims (armed only with a garden hose) of this tragic injustice. Without an ounce of sympathy, remorse, or consideration, it was clear that they savored the power they had over these helpless Boracay residents, who are in fact rightful property owners.

Anyone with a heart would have dutifully carried out the ice-cold mission with a bit more humanity, dignity, and a whole lot of displeasure. At the very least, someone in authority should have decently approached and spoken with the residents civilly. Didn’t happen. This was non-negotiable and there was no room for dialogue. This apathy alone was a brutal display of spite against decent hard working people who have given so much to Boracay and to tourism, being stewards of Asia’s number one kiting beach, gracious hosts and instructors to numerous travelers and water sports enthusiasts, year-after-year. This same community has in fact donated funds for the construction of a boardwalk along the beach.

Hours into the demolitions, a press conference was called by the BIARMG with no invitation to the aggrieved or their legal representatives that were present at the time.


I later on learned from one of the residents that the German owner of Lumbung Residences, the father of two kids, was threatened with deportation. We were also told that the BIARMG also had power and water supply cutoff by the service providers.

Later that day, still in a state of shock, panic and utter chaos, the children eventually came home from school. Their little lives as they knew it had changed, unable to even change out of their school uniforms.

Organized chaos

The tight Bulabog community and an army of friends came in full force as well, armed with compassion and determination to do whatever it took to help these families cope: like an ant army, everyone moved in synchronicity, packing, moving, comforting the distressed, then packing and moving again. The outpouring of support was incredible.

The Aftermath

The day after, this group of Bulabog residents had appealed to acting mayor Frolibar Bautista for an URGENT REQUEST TO POSTPONE IMPLEMENTATION DEMOLITION ORDERS. The letter referred to the previous day’s demolitions said to be pursuant to the mayor’s Executive Order No. 38, s. 2019 directing the implementation of the demolition orders.

“We urgently and desperately appeal to this Honorable Office to immediately hold in abeyance the implementation of the Demolition Orders issued against the properties of the Bulabog Residents (the “Bulabog Properties”). …As you know, and as confirmed by the Malay LGU in Civil Case No. 11202, the Bulabog Residents have all the necessary permits and clearances for, and have every right to stay in, their homes and properties. Yet, they were treated worse than informal settlers who are required by law to be given sufficient notice and suitable relocation before evacuated.

…We thus appeal to your sense of humanity and justice to immediately recall EO 38, or hold in abeyance the implementation of the Demolition Orders until the RTC resolves their prayer for Writ of Preliminary Injunction, and treat the Bulabog Residents with the decency, compassion and fairness that any person deserves. The reprieve shall at least give the Bulabog Residents an opportunity to try and recover from yesterday’s traumatic events, and to pick up the pieces, and secure the safety of their families and belongings while the threat of demolition of their homes is imminent.”

As one resident returned to her home on Monday to try to scavenge whatever belongings were left in haste and a sheer state of blankness the day before, she was accosted and bullied once again by “a guy in a mask and a hard hat” who threatened the defenseless mother to stay away, back off, “or they would burn it all down.”

Deaf ears

Appeals of residents to authorities fell on deaf ears as clearing operations by the BIARMG led by its general manager Natividad Bernardino, resumed.

Immediately after the November 11 court hearing, an appeal was made to wait a few more days until the Kalibo, Aklan RTC resolves a pending petition seeking for the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

According to the Bulabog 10’s legal counsel Atty. Salvador Paolo Panelo, Jr.’s statement dated November 12, 2019,

“This was the only way to temporarily stop the demolition because of a rule prohibiting the extension of the TRO that lapsed last week. The Court said that the temporary stoppage of demolition will allow it to hear both sides, and make an informed decision on the prayer for injunction.

…In asking for a temporary stoppage of demolition, we are not asking anything more than for BIARMG and LGU officials to be decent human beings. As the Court asked, why not stop demolition for just a few days until the Court decides? The Court committed to resolve the preliminary injunction after 5 days.

The DENR/ BIARMG refused, and said they will proceed with demolition. The LGU, on the other hand, said that they will consult with the Mayor. As of this time, the Mayor has given no commitment to stop demolition. He has the power to do so because the Demolition Orders are pursuant to a municipal ordinance that only he can enforce.

But the President’s order is clear: The President’s Executive Order No. 53, Series of 2018 directs the rehabilitation of Boracay IN ACCORDANCE WITH LAW. They shouldn’t thus use the President as a shield for clearly illegal activities such as demolition of properties without due process.

As the Court noted, there appears no basis for the demolition because the residents have presented, and the LGU has confirmed, in court that the properties have the necessary permits and clearances showing compliance with the 25+5 easement.”

Mother, Father, Sister, Brother

“MOM, WILL THEY DESTROY OUR TREE HOUSE?” says Tamara who has known no other home.

There is nothing more heart wrenching and difficult than for a parent to break devastating news to one’s child – such as having to tell a six-year-old girl that her world is “gone, baby, gone.”

“Are my clothes ok? How about the Wi-Fi?” asks the 13-year-old Alejo, that came as a much-needed reassurance that somehow, her children were sheltered from the harsh realities they now faced, with only the cares that children their age should have.

Fortunately, they had already gone to school when all Hell broke loose, sparing them from a lifelong trauma that would surely have scarred them for life.

As Joyce Manahan tried to put on her best semblance of a smile, she reassures her little girl that the tree house is fine - FULL STOP - as the voice in her head frantically screamed “little does she know, that the tree house is all that will be left!” Still holding what was probably a grotesque attempt at a comforting and motherly smile, the mother of two struggles to conceal the blaring sound of the jack hammers in her head, as she catches herself covering Tamara’s ears.

Innocently she shrugs her mom’s annoying hands off her hair, oblivious to what was really going on in Mum’s head: a constant pounding on concrete, pulverizing their children’s home, their future inheritance, their world, with every blow of the jack hammer.

That weekend, the children were whisked off to the Malay mainland by Alejo’s father Bacchus Zulueta who owns Ventoso Residences, for a slumber party so he could give them “the talk.”

Amidst the wind mills and scenic hikes in the mountains, he explained to his sons Alejo and Xavi, his daughter Misha and her half-sister Tamara, that “there are bad people that are trying to demolish not just our home, but many other homes on the beachfront.”

He recounts, “The small ones didn’t know the word “demolish” so we had to just say “break down” our homes. The older ones knew we have been fighting this for months and asked why this happened so suddenly. We told them we were still fighting for our rights, and we explained we were NOT guilty of violating any rules. They were asking where would they live, what would we do to make money. We told them not to worry about those things, and let the grown-ups figure it out. They just needed to focus on school, and be helpful to their parents by doing well in school.”

Heartbroken, next-door neighbor Louise tells us, “I looked at that house every day for so many years. I would see their house from my bed. Actually from every spot in our house. Seeing it gave me a sense of comfort and contentment because I knew that the family living there are our dear, dear friends. They were just there if and when you needed them. Anytime and always. Our children have been best friends since they were in diapers. I go between crying and raging over what was done to them and their home.”

Joyce, thirty-six-year-old owner of Pahuwayan Suites, has been a Boracay resident since 2003, and a Bulabog resident and a certified kiter for the past 10 years.

Her partner of over 10 years, Drew Sawyer moved to Boracay back in 2003 to kiteboard. He worked as a kite instructor while renting out a flat in England where he spent half the year, to subsidize his newfound life on the island.

He eventually decided to sell his house in England to plant his roots more permanently in Boracay, and to fulfill his dream of building a resort by the beach, with his beloved. Using his inheritance, the money from selling his home, and his entire lifesavings, he purchased the land in 2009 and built the three-story, eight-room Pahuwayan Suites with Joyce. They settled on the third floor flat with Joyce’s son, and opened for business in 2010. Three-years later, they had a daughter, and a boxer named Champ (a real likeness to Drew), until they had four dogs.

The boutique hotel has been their main and only source of income, until the closure happened. Unable to operate, they had zero income for nearly two years, and used up their savings in order to stay afloat until it was all gone. What was supposed to be an investment in their children’s future, all gone. They remain at a loss as to where and how they would live, not to mention how to continue paying for their daughter’s education.

For the couple and for the other victims of this tragic injustice, there are no words to describe the devastation, complete and utter loss, mixed with shards of fear and anguish that cut through every bit of dignity and hope turned to pulp.

Compliant but homeless

On that fateful first day of the demolitions, I stayed with Joyce all day, took her home to a family compound generously offered to them as temporary dwellings. I waited and watched her until she fell asleep.

I remember telling myself that loss is such a cruel thing. It sucks out all the life out of you. Poor woman, all she kept worrying about all day was where her kids and her staff would live.

The following day, I asked her why they did not prepare to move despite the lingering and imminent demolishing, the answer was simple: “Because all of us have permits, we have been compliant from the beginning,” referring to 2013 when they were issued a Mayor’s Permit based on their compliance to the 25+5 easement rule that was then measured by the DENR’s National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA).

The Bulabog 10 have each submitted all the legal and valid documents to the respective government agencies that include their legal 25+5 easement certificates, building permits, occupancy and mayor’s permits from the DENR and the LGU from 2010 to 2018.

Then comes the island closure, the implementation of a road widening easement rule, and a new set of 25+5 measurements. Today, one can’t miss the red 25+5 markings on the wall of Boracay Gems in Bulabog. Based on this new measurement, Pahuwayan Suites would be completely torn down, leaving less than 100 square meters (from 430).

Right next door, Freestyle Academy Kitesurfing, a kite-surfing shop and school was also demolished.

If you ever wondered how long it takes for a lifelong dream to be crushed to nothing, for legendary international kite champion and kiteboarding instructor Khristopher Ken Nacor - hailed as the “Boracay People’s Champ” and the “Kite King of Asia” for the pride he has given the country and the island through the years, this was his Facebook post last November 14, accompanied by a graphic video clip of his Freestyle Academy building receiving the final death blows from the hydraulic hammer:

A true-blooded Boracaynon who hails from Kalibo City, the 41-year-old moved to Boracay in the late ‘90s when he was 19-years-old. Working as a dive instructor and a bartender before discovering kiteboarding, his story was not that different from many of us who followed the Boracay dream. But for Ken, the sheer work he invested into the dream for over two decades (while also teaching locals for free) is exceptional.

The champ was my neighbor for a couple of years when like so many young kiteboarding instructors on the island, he often matter-of-factly spoke of his dreams as if they were already his reality – that he would build his own kite school and resort, so he could teach kids and support other enthusiasts of the sport as a mentor and big brother.

He was and still is the big man on campus, and by campus, I don’t just mean the Bulabog and Boracay kite scene, but throughout Asia. “He the man.” Why? He had no mean bone, no yabang (arrogance). In fact, he’s also the funny guy in class. So when he fulfilled that dream, everyone around him was happy and inspired by a brother who did nothing but work hard, give big, and laughed harder.

On the morning of November 7, as Ken dropped off his son Ryder at the school bus, the five-year-old saw the backhoe and started pointing as if to ask what was going on. “Oh we’re building a playground here for you.”

Unlike the hundreds of hotels and resorts that were forced to comply or be demolished along world-famous White Beach and on Boracay’s many other beaches, many of these establishments were clearly in violation already of the previous 30-meter easement measurements, and took heavy blows to their businesses alone.

For the Bulabog 10 that possess the legal rights to be where they stood, not to mention some having complied further by self-demolishing portions in 2013, and having invested their blood, sweat and tears (not only money) through years of honest hard work, they lost everything, all gone in a matter of days.

They are now homeless. Their young children, homeless, with nowhere else to go.

They paved paradise

Contrary to what most thought was the reason for the demolitions, these families are now displaced, NOT because of beach widening as was the case along White Beach. In place of their homes and businesses, the children’s beachfront playground where a treehouse was built made of wood, the area will be paved to make way for the construction of a 12-meter-wide highway along the beach. All in the name of “rehabilitation,” with the risk of destroying the beach and may be perilous for both the public and the kite surfers due to the strong Amihan winds six months of the year.

With a Circumferential Road less than 100-meters inland, the road appears to serve no purpose.

As stated by Atty. Panelo last November 12, “Last Thursday, the BIARMG finally revealed their hand and announced that they needed to demolish the properties to build a concrete road on Bulabog beach for garbage collection and emergency vehicles. This won’t only destroy the environment and natural beauty of Bulabog beach which is renowned as the kite surfing capital of Asia, it is also illegal because the planned road was already twice opposed by the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Malay. The law requires prior consent of the SB to the planned road.

It is also an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money to build yet another main road. The current garbage collection system in Bulabog is very efficient; and emergency vehicles could pass thru a 5-meter path walk made of sand exactly as used in White Beach. There is also a perfectly fine concrete road parallel to, and just 1-2 blocks away from, Bulabog Beach.

The admitted purpose of the demolition is therefore as questionable as the alleged legal basis thereof.”

On November 12, they sent a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte to plead their case. In closing, it says:

“We humbly request for your intervention and we seek immediate action on the matter. President Duterte, we appreciate you are a very busy man, but we are just human beings – and we are hoping you can help us be treated as such by our own local government. We trust fully in your governance.”

Left with a prayer

When asked what was going through her mind given that the worst has already come to pass, Joyce says,

“Right now, we have no choice but to accept it because after almost two years of uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen next, we just want this to end so we can move on.”

Praying for strength and for wisdom, especially in light of the approaching Christmas holiday season, she echoes what BIARMG GM Natividad said – “It’s done.”

Rather than projecting anger, in their most private moments, they weep without wallowing. I have never seen such courage in the face of defeat, in a battle between machine and machinery vs. man, woman and child.


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