Government temporarily closes Boracay

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 26) — The world-famous Boracay Island is closed to tourists for six months starting Thursday to give way to its rehabilitation.

An inter-agency task force is pursuing its rehabilitation to address its alarmingly polluted waters and brazen violations by establishments of environmental and zoning laws.

Related: Duterte signs proclamation placing Boracay under state of calamity

The President approved on April 4 the recommendations of the Environment, Interior and Local Government, and Tourism Departments to close Boracay for six months.

The island is off limits to local and foreign tourists. Around 986,000 foreign tourists visited Boracay in 2017.

There will be no visitors, except in emergency situations with the clearance of the security committee composed of representatives from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, and the local government.

Residents can only use the Cagban Jetty Port in barangay Manoc-Manoc as entry and exit point. For residents to enter the island, they must present identifications cards that prove they live in any of the three barangays in Boracay.

The closure was met with controversy, as the shutdown was only confirmed three weeks before April 26. Residents and workers on the island expressed worry where they will source their income over the next months.

The government has since promised to give them assistance, either through monetary compensation or alternative work. Officials said a P2 billion calamity fund will be released to assist over 30,000 displaced workers. But the closure proceeded despite the absence of an executive order from President Duterte, placing the island under a state of calamity.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told the inter-agency task force that the executive order will be signed before the day ends.

She also wants to fast track the rehabilitation to be able to have a soft opening by June or July.

"Kung magtulong-tulungan tayo, definitely mabubuksan nang maaga ang Boracay... We really want na matapos siya in the timeframe of 2-3 months. I'm working on it," she told CNN Philippines on Thursday.

During the first day of the closure, Teo, local residents, workers, volunteer groups, and private corporations took part in a cleanup drive along Bulabog Beach in Boracay. In 2017, a video showed brown water flowing directly to the beach.

 

Guidelines, security

Four hundred seventy-two security personnel are roaming the island. An additional 138 police officers will be deployed for "crowd dispersal management," while the Philippine Army will oversee internal security.

The security officers are prepared for possible protests, rallies, fire incidents, attacks on establishments, bombing, and kidnapping. Meanwhile, security guards are tasked to keep establishments safe.

Related: Over 100 anti-riot police ready to keep Boracay safe

The other guidelines are as follows:

  • Identified tourists will not be allowed into the island and will be stopped at the Jetty Port
  • Generally, swimming shall not be allowed. However, residents may be allowed to swim only on Angol Beach in Station 3 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Media will be allowed entry subject to prior approval from the DOT with a definite duration and limited movement
  • No floating structures shall be allowed up to 15 kilometers from the shoreline
  • Foreign residents' stay will have to be revalidated by the Bureau of Immigration

WATCH: Authorities hold security drills ahead of Boracay closure

Coast Guard Spokesperson Armand Balilio on Thursday said two ships and six floating assets are patrolling the island to ensure security.

Economic impact

Boracay's six-month closure and rehabilitation is estimated to cost the Philippines around ₱1.96 billion in lost revenues.

Economic Chief Ernesto Pernia, however, said the loss will only affect the island and the nearby municipalities.

He said this is a temporary shortfall in terms of tourism income and tourism arrivals.

"I would assume that closer to 70 to 75 percent of those who used to go to Boracay will go to the other tourist destinations," he said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

He said the closure of Boracay on April 26 has prompted government to step up on its plans to ramp up the country's economy.

"We are going to be motivated to work harder especially departments like, the Department of Tourism should really step up its effort to attract more tourists in the country to other destinations, as well you know as advertise these other destinations which are not well-known yet to tourists coming from other countries." he explained.