P2-B calamity fund to tide Boracay over
Once dubbed the world’s best island, Boracay is to be closed to tourists for a maximum of six months starting April 26 as the government seeks to clean it up and rid it of the “cesspool” tag given by President Duterte.
Mr. Duterte is expected to put the island resort under a state of calamity to allow the use of P2 billion in public funds to help workers who will be out of jobs once the steady stream of visitors is cut off, according to his spokesperson, Harry Roque.
The government will also use the closure to determine the carrying capacity of the 1,032-hectare island to regulate its development.
In the meantime, it expects to forgo up to P20 billion in revenue during the shutdown.
More than 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year, generating about P56 billion in revenue.
An interagency task force composed of the Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) proposed the closure.
Assistant Tourism Secretary Frederick Alegre described the closure as “one step backward, two steps forward.”
“We have to swallow the bitter pill if we wish to sustain and protect the island of Boracay,” Alegre said in a press briefing.
The closure comes at the height of the summer break, the peak season in Boracay.
But Alegre said the task force decided not to put off the rehabilitation to the lean season because of the need to clean up the island beset by a lack of sewerage facilities.
The influx of tourists, neglected infrastructure, and growth of resort establishments and poor settlements have threatened to turn Boracay into a “dead island” in less than a decade, according to a government study.
Only about 47 percent of the hundreds of establishments are connected to the island’s main sewage treatment plant, with many of the rest possibly maintaining crude septic tanks and others discharging their waste directly into the sea, Alegre said.
“When we were presented the data by the DENR and the DILG, and the pollution levels that we are now seeing daily, the recommendation is to move the date earlier,” he said.
April 26 was set as the start of the closure to avoid the influx of some 30,000 people who would have descended on the island for the “laboracay,” or Labor Day parties, and added to the sewage and waste problems.
Scope of rehab
Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones said the rehabilitation works would consist of:
Drainage audit to spot illegal connections.
Construction of new drainage and sewer lines.
Demolition of structures illegally built on forest lands and wetlands and those that violate easement restrictions.
Fixing of the transportation system.
Officials will likewise go around the establishments in Boracay to determine which of them had violated environmental standards. Violators will be ordered shut down.
The closure will also be used to determine the island’s carrying capacity, which will serve as the basis for regulating the entry of visitors and the construction of new establishments, according to Assistant Local Government Secretary Epimaco Densing.
Even before the study could be conducted, Alegre said the island could sustain only 30,000 people.
Boracay teems with 70,000 at any time, including 50,000 residents and daily arrivals of about 20,000 tourists.
To ensure that only residents and workers may enter Boracay during the closure, the DILG will implement an identification (ID) system for them.
At least 26,000 workers will be affected by the closure, according to the Malay municipal government, which governs Boracay. These exclude workers in service industries like transportation and food.
Johnson Cañete, Western Visayas director of the labor department, said the agency was preparing to assist 17,735 registered workers.
He said the regional labor office had proposed emergency employment assistance for the workers, including P50 in insurance and compensation (regional minimum wage of P323.50 per day) for 30 to 90 days.
Malay Mayor Ciceron Cawaling said the town’s budget for 2019 would be slashed by P200 million because of the expected drop in revenue due to the shutdown. —WITH A REPORT FROM AP
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