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Duterte backs Boracay shutdown

Boracay human chain

Boracay residents, workers, and business operators form a human chain on Saturday, March 17, 2018, along the islands’s famous white beach to show support for cleanup efforts and to appeal to the government not to shut down the island. (Contributed photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte is supporting the recommendation of Eduardo Año, officer in charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), to close Boracay Island for six months to fix its environmental problems.

Mr. Duterte has been critical of the filthy state of the popular  resort island, whose powdery white sand and calm blue waters attract 2 million visitors yearly.

Last month, the President likened Boracay to a “cesspool” because of brazen violations by establishments of environmental and zoning laws that included dumping sewage into the sea.

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He directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to solve the sewage and garbage problem in six months, or he would shut down the resort island .

On Tuesday evening, in a speech before the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, Mr. Duterte said Año had told him that resolving the problems of Boracay could take a little bit longer.

“I answered him, ‘General … whatever is your decision, I will support you. It’s up to you. Just make the recommendation and if I find everything that is all right and in consonance with … it will be implemented,’” the President said.

‘Do it’

Año then suggested a time frame. “He said it will take about something like six months. I said, ‘then do it,” Mr. Duterte said.

The President chided the people of Boracay who had been protesting the proposal to close down the popular tourist destination, which generates about P56 billion annually.

“You were the ones that destroyed Boracay, not us. It is said you will hold demonstrations. Don’t give me that trouble,” he said.

In Tarlac City early this month, the President warned Boracay local officials and businessmen that they would be arrested and charged with sedition if they refused to cooperate with the government campaign to fix the island’s pollution problems.

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He said it was in the public interest to rehabilitate the island for the future generations.

Some 50,000 people, many of them workers, live on the 1,032-hectare island in Aklan province.

House backs closure

The House tourism committee has thrown its support behind the plan to temporarily close down the island.

Committee Report No. 673 seeks the “temporary closure of Boracay Island to immediately eradicate or drastically reduce the dumping of wastewater into the beach,” without recommending a definite period.

In a press briefing, Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, committee chair, acknowledged that the tourist destination’s closure would result in monthly losses estimated at P5 billion.

“However, on balance, the committee put more weight on the long-term viability and sustainability of tourism in Boracay, versus the short-term economic collateral damage,” she said.

‘Bitter pill’

She likened the closure to “a bitter pill that needs to be taken in order to cure the symptoms and causes of a nagging disease.”

The report was issued after four hearings held from September 2017 to January 2018.

To clean up the island, the committee proposed the “indefinite closure” of all residences and business establishments found to have violated wastewater regulations.

The report further stated the government should make an inventory of all pipes, trace all sources of wastewater inflow and crack down on all illegal sewage connections and unwarranted permits issued by the DENR and local governments.

At the same time, it recommended that Mr. Duterte issue an executive order mandating all businesses to avail themselves of the water and sewage services of Boracay Island Water Co. (BIWC).

The report also proposed the infusion of funds for the maintenance and upgrade of the BIWC’s sewage projects and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority’s drainage projects.

As for law enforcement issues, the committee recommended that the DILG direct the municipal government of Malay, Aklan, to provide solid and wastewater management facilities and explore resource recycling technologies.

Audit environmental fees

The committee also said the Malay government should render a full account of the environmental fees collected from tourists.

It also sought the strict enforcement by the DENR of the “25+5-meter easement rule,” which concerns the encroachment of the beachfront and the coastline, as well as rules on the use of forestland.

The committee recommended that the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Boracay be updated and fully implemented, and that a study be commissioned to investigate the island tourism, ecological and urban planning capacities.

It also recommended that informal settlers on Boracay Island be moved to Barangay Caticlan on Panay Island.

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TAGS: Boracay cleanup, DENR, DILG, Eduardo Año, Rodrigo Duterte
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