Closure of Boracay should only be a last resort – residents, traders, workers
ILOILO CITY — Vendors and workers stood beside business owners. Children came with their parents. Local residents were joined by expatriates. They all lighted candles or beamed cellphone torches along the beach of Boracay Island on Saturday evening.
Thousands of people flocked to the island’s famous white beach stretching four kilometers from Boat Station 1 at the northern part of the 1,032-hectare island to Boat Station 3 at the southern end as most establishments along the shoreline and houses on the island switched off their lights for eight minutes starting at 8 p.m.
They voiced support for the crackdown on environmental and other violations but appealed to the national government not to close down the island.
Molded on the sand and lighted by candles was a large sign “Boracay United,” a movement calling for support for the massive campaign to address environmental and building violations.
On Sunday morning, residents formed a human chain along the beach, held hands and stood in silence to show solidarity and to appeal that the island would not be closed down.
Some displayed streamers emblazoned with “Yes to cleanup. No to closure.”
“People from all walks of life came and they want to be counted. Many are scared of (national) government’s pronouncements that the island will be possibly closed down possible up to a year,” said Nenette Aguirre-Graf, president of the business group Boracay Foundation Inc.
On Friday, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu along with Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo and Eduardo Año, officer-in-charge of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced that they had formally recommended to President Duterte the closure of the country’s prime tourist destination 30 days after it was placed under a state of calamity.
The three department heads recommended the closure of the island as a tourist destination for a maximum of one year.
Cimatu, who read the statement of the inter-agency task force, said the island should be closed down “for public health, public interest and general welfare.”
He said the closure would “give ample time for the undisrupted implementation of [measures] to restore and eventually sustain Boracay Island as a prime tourist destination.”
The measures include upgrading of the sewerage system; installation of required solid waste management facilities and mechanisms; removal of illegal structures from forest lands, wetlands and easement areas and geologically hazardous areas; road widening and construction; and rationalization of the island’s transport system.
Cimatu said 937 illegal structures have been identified within forest lands and wetlands and 102 within easement areas. Most of these are still for removal, he said.
But many residents and business operators said the total close down of the island should be a “last resort.”
“The measures could be done in phases with one area close with specific areas being close down one at a time,” said Graf.
Another proposal was to close the main road of the island while demolition and construction activities would be undertaken and allow residents and tourists to use the boat stations as entry points which was the practice before the one-entry-one exit rule through the Cagban port was imposed years ago.
The main concern of resident and those dependent on the tourism industry for their livelihood is employment and sources of income especially if there is a prolonged closure of the island.
“Workers here are asking us what will happen to their children or if they should stop sending them to school because their livelihood is not assured of in the coming months,” Graf said.
Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre, spokesperson of the Department of Tourism (DOT), said the “government is listening to the concerns of the hotels, resorts and airlines.”
He said the recommendations as well as a proposed masterplan for the island would be discussed during the Cabinet meeting on Monday.
“There is enough reason why we should do it. Its just a matter of when,” Alegre told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
DOT met with airlines for the possible waiver of rebooking and cancellation fees for tourists who have already booked their flights going to the island.
He said the DOT was also coordinating with the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development on assistance to displaced workers if the President would order the closure of the island.
Alegre clarified that if there would be an order to shut down only tourism-related activities would be stopped and not the entire island as it had around 50,000 residents.
He said hotels and resorts would be told not to accept guests and tourists would not be allowed to go to the island.
Asked how this could be implemented and if those going to the island would be screened, Alegre said the DILG said the entrance to the island could be controlled at the Caticlan port, the jump off point to the island at the mainland of Malay town where Boracay is located.
Tourism Western Visayas Director Helen Catalbas said the DOT would launch a campaign to bring tourists intending to go to Boracay to other destinations in the region and other parts of the country. /atm
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