The Philippines has announced its well-known holiday island Boracay will be closed to tourists for six months over concerns that the once idyllic white-sand resort has become a “cesspool” tainted by dumped sewage.
The recommendation to close Boracay from tourists for 6 months – or until October – came from the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The Department of Tourism and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had also called for a “total” closure, according to Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
It was the suggestion of these 3 departments that finally got Duterte’s nod. “DENR/DOT/DILG proposal approved after an exhaustive discussion,” Guevarra told Rappler.
Duterte wants funds devoted to assisting local residents in Boracay whose livelihood would be affected by the closure.
“Calamity funds will be activated to tide affected workers over,” according to Guevarra.
What does Boracay’s “closure” actually mean on the ground?
Guevarra had previously said this could mean non-residents would be physically barred from entering the island. Officials have warned the island’s drainage system is being used to send the untreated sewage into its surrounding turquoise waters.
The environment ministry says 195 businesses, along with more than 4,000 residential customers, are not connected to sewer lines. In February the government said a total of 300 businesses faced “evaluation” for sanitary or other offences on the 1,000-hectare (2,470-acre) island, of which 51 had already been handed official warnings for violating environmental regulations.
Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones told AFP last month a closure would involve having airlines and ferries suspend their Boracay services and making the beaches off-limits, and stationing police there “if necessary”, However the Department of Trade and Industry had suggested implementing the closure in phases.
Financial advisers in the Cabinet had also been concerned about the timing of the closure. April 26th is in the middle of the summer season, the busiest time of the year for the island. But from June to August, tourism arrivals wind down because of the rainy season. This low season would thus be covered by the 6-month closure period.
Duterte announced his intention to “close” Boracay last February 10, angered by environmental violations by commercial establishments that he thinks turned the popular tourist destination into a “cesspool.” Boracay stakeholders had said that closing the island for a year would take away the jobs of 36,000 people and would mean foregone revenues of P56 billion.