THE three government departments tasked to clean up the mess on Boracay Island in Aklan have recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte to close down the popular tourist destination for six months starting April 26, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said Friday.
He also ordered the regional directors of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to make an inventory of emerging tourism sites in their areas of jurisdictions and formulate management plans to avoid the problems in Boracay brought about by overcrowding, unregulated growth and inadequate sanitary facilities.
“We want to make sure that the problem in Boracay will not be repeated. We will make sure that there Boracay are proper sewerage treatment facilities in the tourist sites, that easement zones are followed and that there will be no encroaching in forestlands,” Cimatu said.
Sought for comment, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte "has yet to decide on the matter."
The inter-agency task force comprised of the Environment, Local Government and Tourism departments, recommended that the closure last no longer than a year, during which time restoration measures could be undertaken.
Inspections on compliance with sewage treatment and other requirements are now being conducted in tourist spots in El Nido in Palawan, Puerto Galera in Mindoro, Panglao in Bohol, and Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte.
The DENR is also studying the impact of tourism on wildlife and marine resources to formulate restrictions in the interest of protecting their natural habitat, Cimatu said.
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said the temporary closure of Boracay would not result in massive job losses as some businessmen on the island have warned.
Many big hotels supported the closure and would use it to refurbish their facilities, she said.
“They said they will not lay off workers. They will still rehabilitate the hotels, clean the hotels,” Teo told radio dzMM.
The government will also hire locals to help with the clean-up of the island, she added.
“We will hire a lot of people so maybe, only a few will lose their jobs,” she said in Filipino.
Duterte had earlier described the waters of Boracay as “a cesspool” and warned that he would shut down the island, a popular tourist attraction, if it did not clean up in six months,
Senator Joel Villanueva said Friday he favored stricter enforcement of environmental laws and the shutdown only of companies that violate them.
“Implementation of these laws need not require a unilateral and immediate closure of the island. Violators should be penalized, fined and imprisoned, based on the provisions of the applicable laws,” Villanueva said.
“Areas of the island and compliant establishments that are still manageable should remain open. Affected employees and informal workers should be provided with contingency plans and livelihood assistance,” he added.
According to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Boracay establishments generated 17,737 jobs in 2017, the largest in Western Visayas.
Furthermore, the world-famous tourist destination attracted an all-time high of over 2 million local and foreign tourists in 2017, an increase of 16 percent from 2016 based on the data of the Department of Tourism.
“We reiterate our position against a total closure of Boracay. An unqualified closure of the island, especially for an extended period of time, could result in irreversible economic losses for compliant establishments and for those who rely on Boracay for their livelihood,” Villanueva said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has backed the recommendation of the Department of Interior and Local Government to close the Boracay for six months to allow the government to rehabilitate the island.
However, the proposal was met with criticisms from residents, tourists, and businesses who said a prolonged shutdown would hurt the island and deprive its people of livelihood.
“For all its problems, Boracay remains at the heart of our country’s tourism program. It continues to bring in billions of pesos worth of revenue, and attract millions of local and foreign tourists,” Villanueva said.
“Through the years, the Philippine government has spent billions of pesos in promoting the natural beauty of Boracay and its people. We cannot force a direct closure of the entire island without consideration of its impact on the people of Boracay and our national tourism program,” Villanueva added.
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