SEPTEMBER 19, 2006 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - Boracay Island in Aklan will not lose its appeal to tourists even if it is classified as "alienable and disposable" forest reserve and agricultural lands, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

In a 10-page comment submitted to the Supreme Court, DENR’s regional technical director of the Land Management Services said Malacañang’s reclassification of Boracay and the areas around it "is well within the ambit" of its authority.

Presidential Proclamation 1064 classified Boracay Island into agricultural lands and forest reserve, and provided for a 15-meter buffer zone on each side of the centerline of road and tracts for right-of-way purposes.

"The exercise of the above-cited authority rest upon the reasonable discretion of the President guided by the view of how Boracay Island is to be classified and what is good for the majority of the inhabitants in Boracay Island and not upon the expression of the will of the predominant power in the community," said DENR in its comment, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR.

DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes is preparing to submit his own comments on the issue. He met yesterday with local DENR officials to discuss their next move.

Regional Technical Director Antonio Luis filed the comment with SC last week through lawyer Romeo Mijares.

It also said "the issuance of the Proclamation 1064 is not based on the erroneous and rejected assumption as what the petitioners believed it to be."

Long-time Boracay residents and resort owners have contested Proclamation 1064 before the courts, saying it will hurt tourism because operators of resorts and other tourist areas in Boracay may hold off development plans for what many consider an "island paradise."

Orlando Sacay and Wilfredo Gelito and other landowners of Boracay, are seeking a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order on the implementation of Presidential Proclamation 1064 for lack of merit. The petitioners described PP 1064 as "sweeping classification" and that it was "absurd and unreasonable."

According to Luis, Boracay had never been placed under any present classification and that under existing laws, the island resort falls under the category of "public forest."

Luis also pointed out that although the authority to "reclassify" lands of the public domain from one class to another was withdrawn from the President under the 1987 Constitution, the power to "classify" lands of the public domain "is still vested with the President."

"In the light of the foregoing... it is our considered opinion that the issuance of Proclamation 1064 could not in any manner destroy the tourism industry in Boracay Island," the comment said.

"On the other hand, it would even bolster the tourism industry in Boracay," it added.

Visibly tired GMA returns from trip The Philippine Star 09/19/2006

While the city slept, a visibly tired President Arroyo returned to the country at around 3:30 a.m. yesterday and proceeded immediately to Malacañang following a whirlwind five-nation trip.

The President’s plane landed at the Centennial Terminal of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA-2) — not at the controversial Terminal 3 just yet since it still has to be repaired and completed.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo would inspect the new terminal "any time soon" but not yesterday morning "because there was not a soul" to welcome her there.

Ermita said the government would have to wait for the valuation of the facility before full payment would be made.

The government took possession of the facility after paying the P3- billion proffered value set by the Supreme Court.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) is now negotiating with the Japanese firm, Takenaka Corp., the builder of the new terminal to complete the facility.

MIAA general manager Alfonso Cusi said the portion of the airport’s ceiling that collapsed earlier had yet to be repaired.

The President’s nine-day swing took her and her party to the Asia-Europe Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, and the European Commission conference in Brussels, Belgium. She also met with Amnesty International in London, England.

In Havana, Cuba, Mrs. Arroyo took part in the Non-Aligned Movement Summit after which she joined Filipinos in Hawaii in celebrating the centennial of the first recorded Philippine migration to the United States territory.

Presidential Management Staff chief Arthur Yap said Mrs. Arroyo would report to the nation on the gains of the trip.

"The fact of the matter is many in Europe, many around the world, would like to meet the President and would like to have a first-hand accounting of the economic turnarounds we are doing," Yap said.

"Hunger is slowly creeping down, we’ve managed to arrest the issue of jobs and we are also expanding the social benefits program right now so a lot of people around the world would like to meet the President as well to hear the story and the challenges that continue to face us," he said.

Yap said Mrs. Arroyo could not actually be in triumphal mood every time she would talk with the international community.

"She cannot say of course that our problems are over, she is actually telling them that we are making tough choices, we are making hard decisions and we need their support as well. The President’s objective is to project that phase of a new Philippines trying very hard, reporting our economic house in order and the results are coming in," he said.

"The mere fact that she is there and personally engaging international support organization and foreign governments is doing a lot for the Philippines in terms of linking us up for more cooperation and programs," Yap said. — Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved