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‘LaBoracay’ dims; April shutdown looms

LIFE’S A BEACH—NO MORE The hordes of tourists who used to frolic on the country’s premier beach destination are nowhere in sight despite the start of the Lenten holiday, no thanks to the government plan to close the island to visitors. —LYN RILLON

Annual beach parties in Boracay that had attracted hundreds of thousands of Filipino and foreign tourists would be canceled if President Duterte approves the recommendation of a government task force to close the island to visitors for six months.

The task force proposed the six-month closure starting on April 26 to allow authorities to rehabilitate the world-famous island from numerous problems due to environmental, health and building code violations by resort operators.

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The “LaBoracay” holiday events that culminate on Labor Day on May 1 would have to be called off so that the presence of droves of tourists would not exacerbate the problems, according to Undersecretary Jonas Leones of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“Based on the evaluation of [DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu], we need to close Boracay to undertake drastic rehabilitation efforts in the area,” Leones said in an interview with the Inquirer on Friday.

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“So it will be difficult if we allow tourists to come while rehabilitating the area. They will just be inconvenienced because of road closures as we lay down new pipes and sewer lines,” Leones pointed out.

One of the party organizers, The Red Whistle (TRW) Organization, has announced it was canceling its Labor Day event.

“[We] would like to inform our event partners, suppliers, sponsors, celebrity ambassadors and lifeguard volunteers that we have decided to cancel #SaveSexyLaBoracay2018,” Niccolo Cosme, one of the group’s founders, said in a statement.

‘Difficult decision’

“This is a difficult decision for us to make because #SaveSexy was born in #LaBoracay and the Boracay Island community has played a gracious host to us in the last five years,” Cosme said.

He said LaBoracay had enabled TRW, which advocates for human immunodeficiency virus awareness, to reach hundreds of thousands of people.

Cosme said his group supported the island’s rehabilitation and cleanup, especially measures that would result in “maximum effect on environmental improvement” with minimum impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people in Boracay.

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“Boracay is famous for its once pristine waters and its white sand beaches, and without them, it will be hard to sustain its tourism-based economy,” he said.

Mr. Duterte last month described Boracay as a “cesspool” and ordered a crackdown on polluters.

The interagency task force, which includes the DENR, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, was directed to rehabilitate the island in six months.

The job includes updating the island’s sewer lines and drainage system and the demolition of illegal structures built in its forests, on wetlands and on beaches within 30 meters from the high tide waterline.

The original recommendation was for a one-year closure, but wastewater treatment concessionaires on the island committed to fix the sewer lines within in a shorter time, Leones said.

DOG DAYS Boracay on the throes of summer looks grim and desolate as the government cracks down on resorts abusing its bounty. —LYN RILLON

Local gov’t support

Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores on Thursday presented a letter to the task force from local businessmen and government officials, and workers’ and transport groups expressing support for the government’s efforts to rehabilitate the island.

“We are one with you in the need to balance tourism development with environmental protection and preservation,” the letter said.

“We recognize the fact that the status of Boracay as the premier destination of our country can only be maintained by the conscious and determined efforts of all stakeholders to immediately undertake the necessary mitigating measures to resolve the critical environmental problems arising from the rapid and unregulated growth of our local tourism industry,” it added.

The 42 signatories include leaders of the Boracay Foundation Inc., Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Boracay and Kalibo, the various local executive leagues, labor and other groups.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo said the closure could end sooner if the rehabilitation work was sped up.

Although the President had not yet approved the recommended closure of Boracay, local government and tourism officials already reported canceled bookings.

Canceled bookings

One resort operator, who requested not to be identified, told the Inquirer 25 guests who had booked in time for LaBoracay had canceled their reservations.

Rowen Aguirre, executive assistant for Boracay affairs of Malay municipality, which has jurisdiction over the island, said corporate sponsors had backed off the holiday event amid the looming shutdown of the island.

The DOT had ceased marketing the island and was instead promoting alternative destinations in Western Visayas, according to Tourism Regional Director Helen Catalbas.

About two million tourists visited Boracay in 2017, accounting for 34 percent of the 5.8 million who visited Western Visayas, according to data from the DOT regional office.

Boracay provided jobs for at least 19,031 people, 68 percent of the total Western Visayas tourism employment.

DOT spokesperson Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre last week said Boracay could be declared under a state of calamity around the Holy Week.

The declaration would allow authorities to use calamity funds for the rehabilitation effort and assist those who would lose their jobs and livelihood due to the closure of the island. —WITH A REPORT FROM NESTOR P. BURGOS JR.

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TAGS: Boracay, Lenten break, Tourism
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