Boracay closure impends; police go on high alert

POLICE with assault rifles patrolled the entry points to Boracay island on Tuesday, just days before a six-month shutdown and cleanup of one of the Philippines’ top tourist attractions. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had called the renowned white-sand resort a “cesspool” fouled by dumped sewage and imposed the temporary ban on visitors that is due to take effect Thursday. 

In other developments:

• The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has approved a resolution recommending that Duterte declare Boracay in a state of calamity.

• Duterte may sign the executive order placing Boracay under a state of calamity “anytime now,” his spokesman said on Tuesday.

Harry Roque made the statement two days before the island is closed to tourists for six months to give way to its rehabilitation starting April 26.

• Malacañang on Tuesday suggested to the establishment owners in Boracay to advance the 13th -month month pay of the workers to be affected by the island’s closure. 

• An official in Aklan said Tuesday at least 13 beach-front properties in Boracay would have to have portions of their structures removed for being illegal.

“Of the 18 properties surveyed, 13 or 14 must remove some structures,” said Rowen Aguirre, executive assistant of the Office of the Mayor in Malay, Aklan.

  Authorities on Tuesday held a practice run of security measures in Boracay, asking residents of the tiny island to present identification cards at the gateway port of Caticlan to be allowed entry. 

In Boracay, police conducted exercises simulating clashes with protesters, terrorist attacks and a hostage incident even as they said there was no specific threat.

CASTLE OF DREAMS. An unidentified woman toting a baby walks past a sand structure in Boracay, ahead of its closure on April 26. President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the once idyllic white sand resort closed to tourists for six months, after describing the country’s top tourist attractioan as a  ‘cesspool ‘ tainted by raw sewage. AFP
“In any plan we need maximum contingency. We will have an assessment if we need to add or reduce our forces, but we now have enough forces,” local police official Jesus Cambay told AFP. 

Once hailed as one of the world’s top holiday destinations by travel magazines, Boracay is among the Southeast Asian destinations reeling from decades of unchecked tourism and environmental degradation.

Officials have warned the island’s drainage system is being used to send untreated sewage from the hotels and restaurants into its turquoise waters. 

Duterte has threatened to arrest people who try to block government efforts to rehabilitate the sewage system and demolish illegal structures. 

With no sign in sight of resistance to the cleanup, some residents were surprised by the presence of more than 600 policemen.  

“I think it’s excessive. Why does Boracay have so many policemen?” tour promoter Jessie Ibon told AFP.

“It might scare the tourists, seeing soldiers with long firearms.” 

Workers said they did not mind security checks, adding they were more worried about their jobs. 

The closure threatens the livelihood of 17,000 hotel, restaurant and other tourism workers, plus about 11,000 construction workers.

“There’s no problem with presenting IDs. It’s no hassle. But the income is the huge problem. Of the 100-percent income we used to get, it’s now down to 15 percent,” resort housekeeper Ernida Jimenez told AFP. 

The last remaining tourists went swimming despite the algae-tined waters near shore, which the government said was due to sewage being dumped into the waters. 

“I heard that this beach is supposed to be the most amazing, the most beautiful beach in the world and then when it was all green, it was a bit disappointing,” Swedish tourist Malin Palm, 19, told AFP.

Topics: assault rifles , Boracay island , shutdown , cleanup , President Rodrigo Duterte , National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council
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