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Boracay rehab work still unfinished for reopening

REHAB WORK Boracay’s main road gets muddy when it rains as some areas are still being cleared. Workers have yet to finish laying drainage and sewage pipes, and transferring electric posts. —NESTOR P. BURGOS JR.

(Second of three parts)

BORACAY ISLAND — With no tourists and only a few establishments operating, longtime residents of Boracay say the resort island looks as the pristine as it was in the 1970s and 1980s before it became an international attraction for its powdery white sand and crystal clear waters.

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While residents and business operators have been reeling from the blow on the local economy from the island’s six-month closure, many are appreciative of what they now see of the “old” Boracay, before unregulated and rapid development amid a tourism boom turned the island into a model of mismanagement.

“We have been reliving the Boracay of the past,” says Dina Ong, 62, a municipal government employee who lives at Barangay Balabag, one of the three villages on the island.

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As in the past, Ong says the villagers know most of those frolicking on the beach before the sun sets.

Weather permitting, she goes to the beach with her children and grandchildren in the afternoon.

“When there are many tourists, we don’t allow children on the beach. But now, we let them play as long as they want and we are more relaxed,” Ong says.

No more beach parties

After Boracay was closed to tourists on April 26, the island that lighted up in the night with beach parties had turned silent in the dark, with only a few soft patches of light seen on the shore.

With no businesses and tourists to cater to, old-timers, including expatriates, have found time to again enjoy the island just for themselves.

Swiss national David Goldberg, who settled here in the 1980s, says that after a long time, he can now swim again in the pristine waters with no crowds of tourists.

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On most Friday nights, Djila Winebrenner hosts a small group of friends and longtime residents with food, drinks and music at Lazy Dog, a bed and breakfast that she operates.

Winebrenner says the weekly get-together has kept her group in touch with each other while helping them weather the impact of the closure that is expected to end next week.

The government, residents and business operators gear up for the reopening of the island, but is it ready for tourists who are eager to see the “new” Boracay?

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, one of the vice chairs of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, announced on Oct. 12 that 68 accredited hotels and resorts with a combined 3,519 rooms were ready.

New guidelines

Under the new guidelines to keep Boracay from sliding back to the “cesspool” that it had been, which prompted President Duterte to order its closure and cleanup, commercial establishments must pass requirements set by the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Tourism, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government before they are allowed to cater to tourists.

Government officials say the island is ready to accept a regulated number of tourists, but some major rehabilitation works have not yet been finished, including the main road, which may not be ready for vehicular traffic when tourists come in for the “soft opening” on Oct. 26.

Many parts of the road, which is muddy when it rains, are still being cleared as workers lay drainage and sewage pipes and transfer electric posts.

Al Fruto, assistant regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, says the main road from the port at Barangay Manoc-Manoc to an area near the Elizalde property in Balabag would be “passable” when the island reopens.

4-km road network

About 70 percent of the P490-million 4.12-kilometer road network will be concreted, Fruto adds.

The quality of the road, he points out, would not be compromised by rushing its construction.

A 452-meter stretch of the road along Bulabog Beach on the eastern side of Boracay would be completed and would connect the circumferential road to the 100-m Mt. Luho, the highest point on the 1,032-hectare island.

Fruto says the road network, including the paved sidewalks, would be completed by the end of the year.

Pontoons would be built at two docks for motorboats, one near the middle and the other at the northern end of the long beach.

Allowing passenger motorboats to load and unload visitors and residents on the long beach is prohibited under a provincial ordinance mandating one-entry and one-exit only at the Cagban port or at Tambisaan port (during the northeast monsoon season).

While residents and business operators are eagerly awaiting the reopening, there are doubts whether it would be advisable to do this while major rehabilitation works are yet to be completed.

Jose Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, composed of about 130 travel agencies, tour operators and resorts, says tourists are anticipating the reopening of Boracay.

Fine-tuning rules

Clemente says the new guidelines must be fine-tuned, including prohibiting chairs on beaches, because these may dampen the experience of tourists.

“There’s a need to bring back life to the island after the rehabilitation period,” he says.

But Clemente, whose family operates a tour agency, says he will not encourage their clients to come to Boracay just yet.

“I tell my clients to rather come from January onward, but it will depend on [the pace of the rehabilitation work]. I have to tell them the truth,” he says.

Tourism Undersecretary Arturo Boncato Jr. does not believe the unfinished public works will spoil the fun for the tourists.

“You come to Boracay to see the beach and not the street,” Boncato says.

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