By ARIEL C. SEBELLINO
ON one cold and windy Tuesday morning, she made her last sandcastle. It stood mighty proud till late evening. A few tourists walked past it, not knowing its impending fate.
Precy Sacapaño, a 50-year-old mother of six, used to make a living out of building sandcastles. She is one of the 31 men and women who built miniature replicas of castles along the beaches of Boracay in Malay town in Aklan–much to the delight of passersby and tourists. Even children helped build the sandcastles.
“I started playing with the white sand until I learned to make castles out of it,” Precy recalled. ”I began doing it in 2005. I was happy doing it at first until tourists were regaled by my sandcastle. I did not ask them to pay me. They just threw coins.”
She and her companions were allowed to make their sandcastles freely without restrictions until Jan. 15, 2008 when the local government started strictly implementing Municipal Ordinance No. 246.
The ordinance was enacted in 2007, regulating sandcastle-making on the beaches around the famous island resort. One reason for the passage of the ordinance was that huge quantities of sand are needed to make big sandcastles that are used as photography backdrops for a fee. The once unregulated commercial activity affected the natural terrain of the beach.
Sand sculptures have since been strictly prohibited, except for promotional or special events with a mayor’s permit. Aside from securing a permit, sandcastles could now only be built six meters “from the edge of the vegetation” and should not hamper pedestrian flow along the beach.
“It is very expensive (to get a mayor’s permit), but it’s just us residents here (who are required to do so),” Precy said. “Visitors can make sandcastles as they please without having to worry about being penalized.”
The ordinance provides that a resident who violates any provision of the sandcastle-making ordinance shall be fined P2,500. On the second and subsequent offenses, an additional penalty of 30 days imprisonment shall be imposed depending on the discretion of the court.
“It is also mandatory now for the proponents to restore the original terrain of the beach by levelling the sand and cleaning the area after the activity,” according to Glenn Sacapaño, chief operating officer of Action Center, the extension or satellite office of the mayor in Boracay.
From a daily staple at the beachfront, sandcastles eventually became a weekly sight. Nowadays, they are only to be seen on special occasions.
Vicky Gonzales, a native of Aklan and a regular visitor of Boracay, said she misses the beautiful sand creations. Her family always looked forward to seeing sandcastles and posing beside them for their souvenir photos.
“I wonder where have all the talented sandcastle-makers gone?” she asked. “How do they earn their keep now?”
Precy recounted the days when she used to earn a whopping P2,500 daily from tourists who asked her and three other companions to make a smaller-than-life prototype of a sandcastle of their choice.
After a whole day spent soaking under the heat of the sun and a night of windy cool breeze, the four of them equally would divide the earnings for their family’s daily subsistence.
She would then walk less than two kilometers to her home, which is just at the back of the staggering resorts and hotels in Zone 5, Barangay Balabag. Most of the residents there now earn a living from selling knick-knacks, and working in construction sites and resorts.
Today, Precy and 30 other Zone 5 residents now have to pay P100 daily to the municipal government for every square meter of space they use in building sandcastles. On top of that, they have to pay P600 for a special permit to make one sandcastle for a company or for a special occasion.
“Unlike before, I only do it occasionally now,” she said. “Getting a mayor’s permit is a big deal for me. Of course, I will have to make sure ahead of time that somebody will hire me to make a sandcastle.”
Precy is among Boracay residents who have to grapple with the challenge of preserving the environment, embracing modernity and, having to survive in between.
Tagged Boracay tourism