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Travel hot spots: From paradise to hell?

Things are getting ugly at Boracay, one of Asia's worst kept secrets.

Many of the new developments have ignored environmental ordinances and building laws, according to an assessment by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, resulting in flooding and beach erosion.

“The biggest concern for people living here and who care about the island is not that it’s getting busier. It’s that they seem to be building on every possible square inch,” says Glen Parsons, a Briton who runs Ocean Republic, a kitesurfing shop at Bulabog Bay on the island’s east side. “This hill,” he says, pointing to a cliffside covered in white villas, “only had one hotel when I moved here six years ago. Now they’re hanging off the cliffs.”

In a bid to slow development and the resulting property disputes, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government in 2006 reserved 40 percent of the island as agricultural and forest land. Last year the Supreme Court upheld the edict and dismissed private claims to secure legal title over property featuring luxury developments. (Currently, only 10 percent of property owners have land title, with the rest essentially leasing space by paying real estate taxes.)

The move caused a panic among many resort owners, who feared the notoriously corrupt government was trying to lay claim to already developed land. Many also worry that once an ongoing land title assessment is completed, they will be forced to bid for land where they’ve made multi-million dollar investments.

The government has assured resort owners that none of their properties will be seized. Virgie Sarabia, executive director of the Boracay Foundation, a group of resort stakeholders that liaises with the government, is confident the government will stick to its word. “Nobody’s being kicked off their land,” she said.

Meanwhile, authorities are working on cleaning up Boracay’s waters. The waste treatment system has been improved, Sarabia said, and this year the water off Bulabog beach, where the bulk of the sewage is pumped, isn’t as foul as recent years.