By Diwatang May Baltik
As we bask in Boracay’s seascape, deeply immersed in our communion with the spectacular natural beauty all around us, a stranger who is completely unaware of this gratifying moment suddenly stops us on our tracks and solicits something out of our realm. This stranger, who without a care, save for his own need to earn money, exhibits his persuasive tactics by offering boating activities, massage, braiding, hats and other things that we know we could avail of at our own convenience. Sounds familiar?
While these are readily available at shops all over the island, at our hotel, or even online, what then do we make of this unsolicited selling apart from an invasion of our privacy?
The truth of the matter is that there is a Municipal Ordinance regulating such strangers, properly known as Ambulant Vendors and Commissioners.
The Ordinance states; “It is hereby declared the policy of the Municipality that the white beach portion of Boracay Island shall be preserved in order to sustain its natural environment and pristine beauty. It is also the policy of the Municipality to reserve the white beach portion for tourist who come and spend money to enjoy, relax, seek peace of mind and experience the unique tropical ambience of the Island.”
This further states that all vendors, including “masseurs, manicurists, boatmen and sailboat operators engaged in Island Hopping, operators of motorbike for hire and ambulant and stationary vendors selling fruits, shell craft, garments, sunglasses and other souvenir items, etc.” must first secure proper permits from the Office of the Municipal Mayor. Also, “vendors are required to wear their prescribed uniforms and IDs properly”, and more importantly, they are “strictly prohibited to approach and or disturb tourists to offer their goods or services.” Instead, these vendors are only allowed “to transact their business in all boat stations or in places identified and sanctioned by the Municipality.”
On the other hand, vendors who are caught violating any provision of this ordinance shall be fined PhP2,500 and have the product or object confiscated and/or imprisoned for not more than 15 days at the discretion of the court.
Furthermore, under Section 5 of the said ordinance, “It shall be the duty of the Boracay Special Task Force to see to it that this Ordinance will be implemented properly thru: the help of the PNP, Philippine Coast Guard, Beach Watchers, Barangay Officials and Tanods or anybody deputized by the said office.”
Given these clear directives, how is it possible that these vendors are still present on our White Beach, especially when there is the constant presence of Malay Auxillary Police and “Government Official” vehicles, as well as the manned Police Desks along several parts of the beach.
I asked one PNP officer who was seated at his beachfront desk why he was allowing a couple of vendors, with neither uniform nor ID to approach tourists at their breakfast table. As if annoyed by my interruption from his mobile phone, he responded that they actually catch such vendors. And as I pointed the vendor out to him, he slowly rose from his seat and reluctantly approached the vendor. This officer’s response did not seem genuine, as he instantly returned to his seat and left the vendor to do his bidding.
I also asked one MAP officer about the commissioners on White Beach. As expected, he reaffirmed the provisions on the ordinance that the commissioners are prohibited to sell on the beach, otherwise they get a ticket and even get blottered when they become unruly. But then, I often see MAP officers taking a sunshade under the coconut tree with the commissioners.
Interestingly, in an article published in August last year, Police Major Jess Baylon stated that he and his group would intensify the strict implementation of various ordinances in Malay, Aklan and Boracay Island, including the prohibition of ambulant vendors and commissioners on White Beach.
So how come these vendors are still around and catching tourists off-guard?
One lady commissioner had answered this question, stating that they are indeed allowed as long as they have a permit and that they stay within the boundaries of the beach path alone, not further from the coconut trees and to the shore.
One lady balut vendor, on the other hand, respects the ordinance and refuses to sell on the beach even if other ambulant vendors, as she has said, disregard the ordinance by taking advantage of the absence of official enforcers or by befriending the MAPs so they could sell.
There are also Beach Guards on the beach these days who are assigned to keep peace and order, with the inclusion of catching violators of the non-smoking rule, and not throwing the garbage in the waste cans.
If the gnawing presence of commissioners persists despite the availability of government groups who are authorized to implement the provisions in this Municipal Ordinance, then it is safe to say that there is a definite lapse in enforcing this regulation in particular.
Not wanting to take away the livelihoods from these hardworking members of society, there must be a suitable and sustainable solution, and a properly appointed place for such enterprising individuals that offer some unique finds, or perhaps a means to employ these able-bodied individuals in line with the island’s thrust towards sustainable tourism.