DENR: Erring Boracay establishments have 2 months to 'shape up'

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Story updated to include statement of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu on Tuesday warned commercial establishments releasing untreated sewage into Boracay's waters to "shape up" or risk being shut down.

In a press release from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Cimatu said erring establishments must either install their own wastewater treatment facilities or connect to the Boracay Island Water Company sewage treatment plant within two months.

"The DENR is giving them two months to comply with the law. Otherwise, we will close them," Cimatu said in a press release.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Cimatu said he has already instructed local officials to give notices of violations to establishments violating the law.

"I have ordered the issuance of notice of violations to my regional director there in Boracay and issued these orders... That is really part of the process before closing," he said.

The statement comes after Duterte on Friday ordered Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu to clean up the island within six months, warning he would shut the island down due to pollution.

The world-famous island is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. However, there have been concerns the influx of tourists in the island comes at the expense of the environment.

In addition to hitting establishments built over Boracay's coast line, Duterte has called the island a "sewer pool," as some establishments supposedly drain waste water into the sea.

Cimatu said establishments violating the law will be given three to five days to respond to their notice of violation.

"Otherwise, we will cut their water connections," Cimatu warned.

He said only 50 to 60 percent of Boracay establishments comply with the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, which mandates establishments and houses to dispose their septic wastes to treatment facilities. The others drain their pipes to the sea.

Cimatu said the DENR will try to address this issue as the island's concessionaire could not accommodate all establishments for now.

"That's why I required Undersecretary Luna to coordinate with Manila Water which got the concession there in Boracay and the sewage system so it can already get connections from all the establishments in the island itself," he said.

The deadline comes as a Boracay business group asked the government not to shut down the whole island, and spare establishments following the law.

In a statement on Monday, the island's biggest business organization, Boracay Foundation Incorporated (BFI) said the government should close only "erring establishments," as closing the entire island would affect those depending on tourism for their livelihood.

It said the government should just "strictly implement the existing environmental laws and local ordinances and close all erring establishments immediately."

"We have continuously expressed our frustration and dismay over the lack of attention given by the National Government and other offices concerned to the island of Boracay. Now that Malacañang is keen on fixing Boracay, we are hopeful that Boracay's issues may finally be addressed as agencies and departments concerned will be pressured to urgently fix the island's problems," it said.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said he hopes stakeholders in Boracay will cooperate with authorities and "refrain" from adding more additional structures or facilities

"Probably they can police their own ranks and prevent some more growth of establishments in Boracay. That is really what we should do for the moment," he said.

He said part of Boracay's problem is that there are too many establishments in the 10.32-square-kilometer island.

"The Department really has a survey or a research on the carrying capacity of the islands... and at the time it was already at the level of the maximum but then it continues to grow... even after a moratorium of building constructing new establishments," he said.

In addition to its two-month deadline, the Environment Department also halted the issuance of environmental compliance certificates (ECC) required for the construction of new buildings in the island.

The documents are required for projects that pose "potential significant impact" to the environment.

The Environment Department will also go after resort owners with establishments in Boracay's forestlands.

"Forestlands are no-build zones. What they have done is against the law," Cimatu said, referring to Presidential Decree No. 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines. 

Boracay has consistently been named one of the best islands in the world. The Department of Tourism said it generates nearly P50 billion in annual receipts.

Last year, more than two million tourists visited the island, according to Malay Municipal Tourism office records.