Inter-agency group recommends Boracay's total closure

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 15) — A total closure of Boracay.

This is the recommendation of the Environment, Tourism and Interior departments after assessing the island's condition. 

After their coordination meeting on Thursday afternoon, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu cited several reasons for the recommendation:

  • poor sewerage system on the island causing contamination of the beach;
  • inefficient solid waste management; and
  • illegal structures in forestland, wetlands, and easement.

"Based on the aforementioned circumstances and for public health and public interest and general welfare, I recommend to the president the closure of the Boracay island as tourist destination effective one month after it's declaration," Cimatu said.

Interior Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año said they will initially recommend to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) the declaration of a state of calamity in Boracay, which will facilitate the release of rehabilitation funds, and the island's total closure.

The NDRRMC will then forward the recommendations to the President.

Año said they may tackle the issue in the Cabinet meeting on Monday.

Once the President approves this, he will determine the period of closure.

Año said they will give establishments on the island a 30-day notice before the implementation of the closure.

"Kasi pag nagkaroon na ng state of calamity, there are added authorities to the national government to intervene or to Make effort and intervention to fast-track the rehabilitation of saving Boracay," Año said.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said ideally, the closure would be seven to eight months, but the President has the final word.

Dirty water

Cimatu said during their monthly monitoring since 2016, there is high concentration fecal coliform in the Bolabog beaches at the eastern portion of the island.

Based on the latest water testing on March 6-10, 2018, the fecal coliform content in the area was 45 times higher than normal.

"Initial investigation revealed sewer line is insufficient and excess waste water spill over to the drainage system... The drainage empty its untreated wastewater to the Bolabog beach which is frequently used by tourists for kite boarding sports," Cimatu said.

He added there were cases of tourists complaining of skin diseases.

The Environment Department said 195 establishments in the island are not connected to the sewer lines.

And with the expected influx of tourists in Boracay in the coming months, Cimatu said the situation will worsen.

"We will look further into the culpability of water concessionaires Boracay Island Water Company and Boracay TUBI system, as well as Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority and the local government of Malay (Aklan)," Cimatu said.

Illegal dumpsite, structures

The Environment Department also reported that the island generates up to 115 tons of garbage daily, but only 30 tons are collected.

The centralized materials recovery facility was converted into an open dumpsite.

So far, 937 structures in the forestland and wetlands, and 102 structures in easement areas were identified as illegal.

"That's illegal. More effort has to be made by LGU (local government unit) with the assistance of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) in resolving the problem," Cimatu said.

The upgrade of the sewerage system including sewer lines, installation of solid waste management facilities, removal of illegal structures, and road widening will be done during the closure.

Tourism setback

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo admitted the island's closure will be a major setback in the tourism industry since around 17,000 tourists visit the island every day.

Teo said they have already spoken to airlines to allow rebooking of flights without charges.

Also, the DOT will ask establishment owners to refund bookings that will be hit by the closure.

"We have to sacrifice. At the end of the day, it is for the good of Boracay. But we already talked to airlines. We met with the airlines and we told them to divert your flights to other destinations para naman makapunta, ma-promote naman ang other destinations," said the Tourism Secretary.

Teo is optimistic the industry will recover soon after they finish the rehabilitation.

But some residents and establishment owners in Boracay are not happy with the looming temporary closure of the Island.

On Saturday, residents and business owners will switch their lights off as a sign of protest.

The protest is organized by Boracay United, a group of businesses and other associations in the island.

The lights off will run for eight minutes beginning at 8:08 p.m.

Officials asked for understanding and called for sobriety.

Tourism Undersecretary Kat De Castro said while they respect the sentiments of affected individuals, they are asking for understanding as the government's action will be for the better of Boracay Island.

"If they are doing the lights off, I think, this is to send a message to the national government on how Boracay will look like if ipasara siya. But then again, please, please, please... Ang issue natin sa Boracay is not simply the closure if it all but the water and the sewage problem," said De Castro.