Boracay reopens after six-month extensive clean-up

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 26) — "Boracay is now officially declared open to all. Welcome back to Boracay — or would it be better to say — welcome back, Boracay!"

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat, along with other Cabinet secretaries and local officials, welcomed excited tourists to the rehabilitated Boracay after the Philippines' white sand paradise was closed for a six-month restoration.

"Our concerted efforts have proven once again that change is indeed possible with a strong political will and eagerness to work together for love of country," Puyat added as she led the formal reopening of the rehabilitated island.

In the first few hours of the reopening, long but organized lines of tourists eager to see the new Boracay were seen at the Caticlan Jetty Port, which serves as the doorstep to the island paradise. 

The lack of a proper sewage system, illegal structures, and abuse of the environment forced President Rodrigo Duterte to order its shutdown on April 26, calling the waters around the island a "cesspool."

The national and local government, along with the cooperation of business owners, addressed these issues and more during its temporary closure.

Boracay establishments with over 50 rooms were mandated by the government to have their own sewage treatment plans (STP) ahead of Boracay's reopening. The Department of Tourism also required the establishments to be accredited as a tourism facility before they could operate.

More than a thousand establishments and residences have been issued notices of violation of environmental laws. Most of these ranged from encroachment on the easement zone at the beach front to the construction of structures in forestlands and wetlands.

A month before the opening, authorities declared Boracay waters safe and clean. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said that coliform levels at the white beach front and the east side of the island are now far below the maximum tolerable level.

The Interior Local Government Department has sued Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores and a dozen of Malay town officials for graft for their supposed negligence in managing Boracay. Malay town Mayor Ciceron Cawaling was suspended by the Ombudsman on Thursday over the Boracay mess.

Boracay workers whose jobs have been affected by the island's closure were provided monetary assistance by the government.

New rules

To prevent a repeat of Boracay's sad state, the government has set new rules for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the world-famous tourist attraction.

On any given day, Boracay could accommodate 19,000 visitors. But that will be scaled down to only 6,000 starting the soft opening on October 15, as studies showed Boracay's carrying capacity is only at 6,000.

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Full rehabilitation in progress

Despite the massive rehabilitation efforts of the national and local government, tourists and residents were told to manage their expectations. Boracay's main road remains under construction. The 4.1-kilometer Boracay Circumferential Road, which is the island's main road network, will be completed by the end of 2018. There remains a gap from Barangay Manoc-Manoc to Barangay Yapak.

Government officials stressed that this was only the first phase of the project. The second phase is set for April 2019. The island will be restored to its full glory by December 2019.

"I've been talking to the locals. The best thing they told me was this was Boracay 30 years ago," Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat said days before the soft opening.

Warning to other tourist destinations

The Department of Tourism has issued a warning to other major destinations that they could be the next target if they do not clean up their act.

At least five major destinations could be the next ones rehabilitated: El Nido in Palawan, Panglao in Bohol, Oslob in Cebu, La Union, and Baguio City.

Most of the warnings have to do with the failure to comply with the easement space for beachfront shorelines, Puyat said.