Apr 25
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Entrepreneurs, big landlords & the rural poor in the beach resort of Boracay

Author: The Philippine Star

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan – Tourism is the world’s biggest business and the Philippine economy’s potentially most important industry and dollar-earner. It is imperative for the country’s most famous destination, Boracay, to become a showcase of government and private sector cooperation in promoting tourism, by encouraging an entrepreneurial revolution through numerous small and medium enterprises, decisively upgrading infrastructures, and ensuring peace and order nationwide. 12,000 People Welcoming 300,000 Tourists Boracay can be to Philippine tourism, what Malampaya is to Philippine energy. Despite bad publicity caused by the Abu Sayyaf terrorism and other crimes elsewhere, in the first six months this year some 170,000 local and foreign tourists crossed the channel from Panay island to Boracay Island. Amazingly, this island only has 12,000 residents in its three barangays on 1,039 hectares of land area. Total tourist arrivals this year is projected to reach 300,000, or almost equivalent to the total national population of Brunei. There are reportedly 2,000 rooms in Boracay, and over 300 business establishments registered in the whole island. However, the growth potential of Boracay tourism industry is immense and its future positive impact on the whole country is even bigger. In Spain, Mallorca island alone reportedly has 10 million tourist arrivals per year.

Boracay is like the Philippines – rich in natural wonders, resources and boundless potentials, but its economy has not yet unleashed its full potentials. When Mayor Ciceron "Dodong" S. Cawaling of Malay Municipality (of which Boracay island is only a part), Boracay Terraces Resort owner Steve C. Tajanlangit Jr. and Boracay tourism promotion consultant Rey de la Rosa invited this writer to visit recently, there were only few groups of mostly young South Korean honeymoon couples and also beautiful actress Joyce Jimenez enjoying the enchanting beauty of the island. Even before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, Boracay tourism had already been down and needed aggressive marketing overseas. The sight of Joyce Jimenez in Boracay beach led a local entrepreneur to inform this writer that in 1976, then President Ferdinand Marcos reportedly visited the island with famous Italian actress Gina Lolabrigida and stayed in the home of the Elizaldes.

The economy of Boracay has major stakeholders, divided into three groups. The first group includes traditional landlord clans such as the Sacapaño-Gelito clan, Tirol clan, the Hispanic Elizalde family of Manila, the Sarabia family; also the big new landlords like Fil-Estate Group and Ayala Group. The second group comprise the numerous small-medium scale enterprises such as resorts, restaurants, inns and others owned by locals, Western migrants and even settlers from other provinces.

The third group, whose energies can be mobilized to ignite Boracay economic development, are the landless and poor rural people who live in the interior portions of the isle. The government and private sector must rectify social inequities and assist the rural poor so that they can benefit from the mainly beach area tourism boom of recent years. At present, the rural poor’s main sources of livelihood are only coconut and rice production, also vegetables (though many resorts ironically buy their vegetables from faraway Baguio City). The rural poor also suffer from low world prices of copra, thus a visitor can see that many coconuts are not harvested. In response to this writer’s question about the rural poor, Mayor Ciceron Cawaling estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of people in his Malay municipality are poor. Government must help generate more investments, as well as upgrade basic Boracay infrastructure like power, roads, water and others which are presently so inadequate for a resort island hoping to become a world-class destination. Biggest Landlords Are Mostly Outsiders Ironically, most of the biggest Boracay landlords do not even reside in the island, such as theTirol clan, the Elizalde family and Sarabia family. Part of Fred Elizalde’s landholdings have become "D’ Mall. " Local entrepreneurs told The Philippine STAR that they heard that a Tirol forebear was a judge and official of the government’s Bureau of Lands. The only clan member active in the island’s civic affairs, White House Beach Resort owner Leonard Tirol said that his grandfather was copra trader Ciriaco Tirol who accumulated lands in Boracay. Another Tirol clan member said their patriarch was "agri-businessman Roberto Hontiveros Tirol of Iloilo," who had rice and sugar plantations in Iloilo and Negros Occidental. Among the many Boracay enterprises owned by Tirol clan members include: White House Beach Resort, Seawind Beach Resort, La Playa Beach Resort, Boracay Peninsula Resort, Oro Beach Resort, Tirol and Tirol Resort, Pearl of the Pacific Resort, El Centro Resort, Tirol Beach Resort and others.

"From one absentee landlord to another," was the description of a local entrepreneur, in describing the Sarabia clan’s sale of their 80- hectare property to the Zobel-Ayala clan. However, many local entrepreneurs are optimistic Ayala will soon develop their property to boost Boracay tourism. Right next door to the Ayala property is the 3. 2-hectare Club Panoly Resort, owned by 43-year-old Singaporean investor James Lau and run by resort director Al Borromeo. Club Panoly started with 55 deluxe rooms in 1989. Today it has 45 rooms and will add 60 new ones with target completion before the Chinese lunar new year in early 2002. Club Panoly was the first multinational investor in Boracay, pioneering the island’s first tennis court, first swimming pool, first hot water service, first air-conditioned rooms and operating its own desalination plant for water supply. Club Panoly also pioneered in attracting the important South Korean market. Al Borromeo says, "Boracay is the country’s highest tourist dollar-earner destination on a per-square-meter basis. "

Another big landlord clan in Boracay is the Sacapaño-Gelito clan. The matriarch was the entrepreneurial tobacco leaf dealer "Lola Orang" Sacapaño and whose husband was the farmer Hermenigildo Gelito. Their original workers were the Aetas, who are the original inhabitants of Boracay. Among the clan members‚ many businesses include: Mañana Mexican Restaurant, Willy’s Beach Resort, Beachcomber Bar Disco, True Food Indian Restaurant, KO Chicken, Nora’s Place Resort, Bazzura Bar Disco, Cocomangas Bar Restaurant, Serena’s Place Resort and Boutique Stores, BomBom Bar, Sea Lover’s Restaurant, Noel’s Place Resort, Charles Bar, Galaxy Beach Resort owned by the Mayor (whose mother is a Sacapaño) and others. The famous "Willy’s Rock" along Boracay beach is named after prominent landlord Willy Gelito.

A formidable rival to the Zobel-Ayala clan is the biggest landlord of Boracay, the Fil-Estate Group, led by 47-year-old marketing whiz Noel "Toti" Cariño. The biggest job-generator today in the island is the Regency Boracay Resort owned by ethnic Chinese entrepreneur Henry Chuisoy of Iloilo. But if the Fil-Estate plans for the P8-billion development of the properties originally owned by Ciriaco Tirol Sr. and his 10 children will continue, Fil-Estate will become the biggest employer. Although the economic crisis have slowed down construction, Fil-Estate is still continuing work. Cariño told this writer: "Fil-Estate is now the biggest stakeholder in Boracay. Our 122-hectares property is 10 percent of the whole island. I heard Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon has never been here yet, please write that I am offering to be his tourist guide when he visits, so the government can help Boracay. I am sure Gordon will polish Boracay like a multi-faceted diamond, into princess-cut beauty. I first came here in 1985, I returned in 1988. I fell in love with the place. " Entrepreneurs Bewitched By Boracay Beauty The hope of Boracay tourism and economic progress are in the hands of its dynamic and resilient small-medium entrepreneurs, many of whom are from other provinces or foreign countries who "fell in love with Boracay. " One of the immigrant entrepreneurs in Boracay is 37-year-old John Munro of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is the owner, as well as the DJ, cashier and bartender of Cocamangas Hotel Beach Resort. He jokes that he is of Scottish descent, that’s why he says: "I’m kuripot." In 1986, he spent one year as a backpacker worldwide, going to South America, South Africa, then to many Asian countries. At the end of his one-year travels, he planned to stay three weeks in the Philippines. When he visited Boracay, he decided to stay for good. He built a 12-room hotel in 1987 and the famous bar in 1988. Even though he has branched out to open another Cocomangas Bar in Byron Bay, Australia, he lives in Boracay. Why? He replies: "I fell in love with this place. "

A Boracay pioneer is the 61-year-old French entrepreneur with the intriguing name Roger de Paris. When this writer expressed disbelief that was his true name, he said that the name of his 14-year-old daughter is Marie France de Paris. He first came to Boracay in 1981 with some prominent friends from Manila’s Aero Club such as then First Lady Imelda Marcos‚ younger brother Mandy Romualdez. He loved the place so much, he decided to stay for good and started the Philipi Inn in 1981 with six rooms and a French restaurant. He said there were then only 10 customers for the whole island, he had two boats to take people to the restaurant for romantic "sunset dinner. " It was the first and only international restaurant in Boracay. Meals in local restaurants then cost P20, but meals in his restaurant cost P50. His resort then charged P100 per room, then the most expensive already, because local resorts were then charging P15 per room or cottage good for two mats (banig).

Roger used to operate restaurants in French-speaking Quebec province of Canada, Saigon in Vietnam and former French colonies in Africa. Today, he owns the Restaurant de Paris Resort along the beach. Roger recalls that Boracay had its tourism boom in 1991, when the island started to commercialize. Up to 1990 and 1991, Western backpack tourists could still afford Boracay. There were also thousands of young Israeli tourists each year who just came out of the army, went to Japan to work or do buy-sell trade, then went to Boracay for a one- to three-month vacation before going back home for marriage. Before, you can see thousands of bats in the sky, many wild monkeys and big lizards (bayawak) in the forests, life was more easy-going then. When asked where the bats and bayawaks went, Roger laughs: "They’re all mostly eaten na." He asks government to improve safety in the country, so more Western and Asian tourists will come to Boracay.

Another Western entrepreneur in Boracay is 39-year-old Englishman Patrick G. Higgs of Club Bazzurra Bar Disco, who said he came to the isle "by accident. " He visited Borneo island in 1994 and climbed the high Mount Kota Kinabalu, and he asked what was the name of the island that he saw from afar. The native said that was Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines. He then later flew to Manila looking for a way to visit Tawi-Tawi, but the local travel agent said it was not safe due to the Muslim rebellion and recommended Puerto Galera in Mindoro. When he later visited Boracay, he fell in love with the place, saw "solid business opportunities" and he purchased Club Bazzurra Bar Disco in 1998.

Typical of the dynamic small-scale Boracay entrepreneur is 31-year-old Africano G. Flores, Jr. , who used to be a waiter in Red Coconut Resort and Boracay Beach Club Hotel (now renamed Gold Crown Beach Resort). He also worked as property custodian in Pink Patio Resort. With hard work, courage and some savings, he opened his own Rubicano souvenir shop and internet cafe along the beach. In August this year, Andrew Brown of CNN interviewed him.

Felmenito "Felme" Claud, although relative of a big landlord clan, used to work as cook in Savory Restaurant in Escolta, Manila. When tourism brought businesses in Boracay to life, he went home to open the Mañana Mexican Restaurant with German business partner Stefan Krieger. Another fascinating entrepreneur is Jazzed Up Café owner Brian L. McCauley, former boss of ex-First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos when he was head of Makati’s International School. He is also a musician and the proprietor of the Boracay Bulletin. A native of New York, Brian worked for five years in Makati and first came to Boracay in 1994. He said: "I’ve had enough of life in Metro Manila, I love Boracay. "

Among the many Boracay entrepreneurs from other provinces who were bewitched by the island’s beauty is Boracay Terraces Resort owner Steve Tajanlangit Jr. from Iloilo. Tajanlangit also pioneered the first air-con bus service from Kalibo to Caticlan in Aklan province, also from Iloilo City to Caticlan. Tourists then take the boat ride from Caticlan to Boracay. Tajanlangit is also owner of the 7107 Travellers Club.

Another migrant entrepreneur is Karen Villa Reina from Cebu and her German business partner Dieter Schrottmann, who opened what is reputedly the country’s only tropical spa. The 2. 5-hectare Mandala Spa opened only in March this year for local residents, but the real opening for paying guests was on April 1. Karen originally owned a Boracay school called Little Acorn Montessori School, but which is now under the management of Brent International School. The manager is Dang Romero of Iloilo City. The unique and elegant spa was designed by architect Randy Su of Cebu.

A native of Sta. Rita, Samar, 51-year-old entrepreneur Mike Abatiao is owner of Red Coral Diving School and president of the 26-member Boracay Association of Scuba Diving Schools (BASS). A former commercial diver who worked in five Middle East countries and Britain for 12 years, he went to Boracay in 1994 to put up his now successful scuba diving school. His most exciting project to boost Boracay tourism was convincing ethnic Chinese tycoon and avid diver Francisco "Kiko" Tiu Laurel of Frabelle Fishing Corp. of Navotas to donate the 121-foot-long fishing vessel "Camia II" as a shipwreck. Instead of selling it for millions of pesos as scrap, the vessel was sunk in the sea in front of Boracay boat station 2, thus becoming a new divesite for tourists and creating a new fish sanctuary. It is the biggest artificial wreck in the Philippines.

Although we took the Cebu Pacific flight to Boracay, Asian Spirit marketing officer Ling Ling Rodriguez introduced this writer to migrant entrepreneur Edgar Mercado from Metro Manila, who operates Caribo Restaurant. Another migrant entrepreneur is 48-year-old Jose "Otik" Macavinta of Cebu, who has an Agriculture degree and a master’s degree in Public Administration from UP and who disappointed his parents by choosing "a hermit’s life" with his Swedish wife in faraway Boracay. He built the Balanghai Beach Resort, which has a secluded location away from the main beach and perched on top of a cliff 45 meters above the sea. ABS-CBN this summer featured the resort in the Kris Aquino show.

Though his mother is member of a big landlord clan, Mayor Dodong Cawaling is a self-made man and small-scale entrepreneur. He was a young stowaway who sailed for Manila, because Boracay had no economic opportunities. He sold floor wax and chocolates to survive. From 1978 to 1984, he joined the exodus of Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia and returned to Boracay only when tourism business was changing his island. In 1984, he built eight units of bungalow cottages called Galaxy Resort and he pioneered the fastfood idea with his Island Burger. Today, his Galaxy Resort is a modest business with 17 rooms, but he devotes most of his time to his public duties and has leased out his restaurant and shop to other entrepreneurs.

Another migrant entrepreneur is Dionisio "Jony" J. Salme, the 53-year-old owner of the 18-room Jony’s Beach Resort and Restaurant along the beach. He served the first-ever fruit shake in the island at only P4. 50 then in the early 1980s. Today, the island is famed for its varied fruitshakes. He is also president of the Boracay Foundation, which unites 79 local business establishments. He is also past president of the Kiwanis Club of Boracay. A native of Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, Jony was a self-supporting student in University of the East in 1968 when he worked as researcher in the Evening News (part of the tri-media empire of the Elizalde family). In the 1970s, Jony was sent by Elizalde to Boracay to work as administrator of his eight big and mostly beach-front properties. While he worked for Elizalde, his boss allowed the enterprising Jony to operate a small sari-sari store and snackhouse in 1983.

When he retired in 1989, Jony went full-time into business. Allied Bank gave him support, approving his loan application using only tax declaration of his lot, though he did not possess the usual lot title. He learned to improve his tourism business from the advice of his mostly European guests. Jony said: "Boracay entrepreneurs are resilient and self-reliant, but it would be a big help to us if infrastructures here can be improved. Philippine Tourism Authority under general manager Nixon Kua is now doing the sewage and water system, we hope improving the roads is the next step. The country’s reputation on peace and order should also be enhanced. Boracay tourism can be a catalyst for the Philippine economy. " * * * Please send comments/suggestions to wilson_lee_flores@hotmail. com or P. O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Source: The Philippine Star