‘Castle boys’ become concrete mixers
BORACAY ISLAND, AKLAN — Jessler Magbanua has been sculpting elaborate sand castles for tourist tips on this resort island for years, but now that it is shut for cleanup, he will have to switch to mixing concrete.
The six-month closure of Boracay to holidaymakers starting on Thursday is forcing thousands of workers employed by the bustling tourist trade to adapt in order to survive.
Magbanua, a “castle boy,” said he would look for construction work in the absence of the lucrative business of creating sand art for photo-snapping holidaymakers.
“I will just be doing [manual] labor. I will mix concrete,” Magbanua, 17, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on how he would adapt.
“There is no other work to be had here. I will just go into construction,” Magbanua said.
Others like cooks and hotel workers headed home and started looking for other work as police guarded the empty beach on the first day of the shutdown intended to let Boracay’s waters recover from overcrowding and development.
“It’s painful for us to lose our jobs and it’s so sudden,” canteen cook Marlon Laguna, 47, said outside the closed beachfront restaurant.
“Even though I don’t have my own family, I support my siblings …. We cannot do anything but to accept it,” Laguna said.
President Duterte ordered Boracay closed for a massive cleanup after calling it a “cesspool,” saying local business owners were dumping sewage into the island’s once pristine waters.
Boracay has been a top Philippine destination, morphing from a backpacker paradise in the 1980s into an increasingly developed beach resort, fueled by a quadrupling of visitors in just a decade.
The island saw some 2 million visitors last year, pumping P56 billion in revenue into the economy.
The closure will impact the livelihood of 17,000 hotel, restaurant and other tourism workers, plus about 11,000 construction workers.
From chef to farmer
Faustino Cruz said he would return to being a coconut farmer in his province after working his way up as a resort chef.
“It’s backbreaking work on the farm and the income is only every three months. It’s half what I make here but we just have to bear it because I have young children to support,” Faustino said.
Like Cruz, hotel masseuse Dory Gaitano said family sacrifices must be made.
Gaitano asked her eldest child, a university student, to stop going to school in the meantime. “My kids were frowning. They were against it. I said what could I do, Boracay is closed?”
The impact is hardest on informal workers like Iflin Bayato, who braids tourists’ hair for a living. “Who will I cater to? The police have short hair!” she said.
Mr. Duterte earlier said he would release P2 billion to help the workers, but many said they had not seen a centavo yet.
Social Welfare Secretary Emmanuel Leyco welcomed the declaration of a state of calamity covering the villages of Balabag, Manoc-Manoc and Yapak, which would enable the release of calamity funds for the affected workers and residents.
Hundreds of residents have been flocking to the center put up by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to seek assistance.
Norlito Polvo lined up for more than an hour on Thursday at the DSWD center on the main road of the island.
Polvo hopes to get transportation assistance to cover his airplane ticket and meals for his trip home to Pangasinan province.
“This is a shocking reality and I have to go home,” said the 33-year-old spa supervisor.
His employer gave him P1,000 in assistance but he said this was not enough to cover his expenses. “At least I can go home and look for a job. But I want to come back when Boracay reopens,” he said.
The DSWD has released P2.49 million in transportation assistance to 1,021 workers from April 23 to noon of April 26, according to the DSWD Western Visayas director, Rebecca Geamala.
The agency hands out a maximum of P5,000 in transportation assistance.
Just before midnight on Wednesday at Boomboom bar on the beach at Station 2, tourists and residents held a countdown to mark the closure.
Earlier, tourists and bar and restaurant workers cheered at a 15-minute fireworks display in front of D’Mall complex.
At the Cagban port, tourists left the island hoping to come back soon.
“We’re coming back in November!” Jane, a visitor from Russia, said before she and her partner James boarded a boat.
“We’re a little sad to go, but if it’s needed for the environment and the government decided like this, it’s OK,” she said.
Jane and James caught the pump boat going to Caticlan at midnight that capped their “awesome” stay on Boracay Island.
“It’s an amazing place. It’s my first time here. I adore Boracay. It has good beaches and water. Amazing people, good people,” Jane said.
The couple were off to their next adventure on nearby Cebu Island.
On the first day of Boracay’s closure, residents of the resort island woke up to almost deserted beaches and roads.
Swimming was limited to residents and only in a 150-meter-wide area near the Willy’s Rock formation.
Several residents who swam in other areas were directed to move to the prescribed area by policemen posted along the shoreline. —REPORTS FROM AFP, AP, ANTHONY ESGUERRA AND NESTOR P. BURGOS JR.
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