Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Despite its looming temporary closure, Boracay folks were on high gear as they worked to cater to the islands visitors. It was a busy weekend in Boracay. I was there visiting a relative. Everything seemed normal at first until I started to notice a difference.
In restaurants, chatter from waitresses and waiters heard in the background are not of the usual kind. They’re talking about what they’ll be doing next. Meanwhile, the beach vendors who make a living mostly from tourists are working extra hard and more aggressively while they count the days before the island shuts down for rehabilitation.
Before making the trip, I made sure I had some extra 20, 50 and 100 peso bills so I could tip porters, waiters, and practically anyone who assists me even in the smallest way. While I was there, I could sense that other Filipino visitors did the same.
On my way from the jetty port to the resort, I asked the tricycle driver if he was ready for the shutdown. “Hindi po kami nakapag-ipon dahil kakatapos lang ng graduation ng mga bata," he said. He went on to say that he worries about “pasukan” in June since that means paying tuition and school expenses. I asked him what he plans on doing to survive during the closure and he said “maghihintay na lang po ng grasya.” He has three children and his wife is a stay-at-home mother.
As for establishments, some will continue to employ their workers for as long as they can. Mark Santiago, a consultant for Epic Bar and Restaurant, a popular nightlife hot spot for locals and tourists said “There is confusion and anxiety, with government having no clear plans on what will happen.”
“Like many other businesses, the management will put in place strategies for their employees to try to stay afloat,” added Santiago.
I hung out by the beach at Station 2 where I met Randy, an employee of 17 years at one of the resorts there. I asked him what his plans are during the closure. He said he will stay in the island and continue working for his employer. He said his boss plans to rotate the staff and employ them by shifts so nobody loses income completely, while the non-resident employees will have to leave the island and go back to their respective provinces.
I also noticed a few small restaurants and stores already closed. When I tried to order calamari from one restaurant, the waiter said they’ve already run out of seafood and have no plans of re-stocking.
As I walked alongside establishments on White Beach, I overheard locals huddled in groups nonchalantly talking about their future. One group caught my attention as they rowdily toasted while shouting out “sa pagsara ng Boracay.” It was followed by laughs. Confused on whether to feel sad or not, I settled on the notion of Filipino resiliency and our innate ability to laugh and crack jokes even in the midst of uncertainty.
For sunset, I decided to visit a famous viewing deck restaurant located at the end of the shoreline, around the rocks and up a cliff. When I got there, it was no longer in business. It’s been closed to the public and nearly fully dismantled for violations.
Establishments found to violate rules and regulations of Boracay’s building codes are required to take down their structures. According to a resident who is also a teacher at an international school in Boracay, establishments along the roads are being dismantled to make way for the “road widening” project of the government. These are structures that are not up to code. Aside from all these goings-on, there are also talks of replacing the old tricycles with e-trikes.
Despite the changes about to take place on the island, there are a few who are not negatively affected. One guy I spoke to who works in construction said that the closure would make his job a lot easier for him since the roads will be clear and the transport of materials and equipment around the island would be a lot faster.
Meanwhile, an owner of a high end spa sold his property to a big corporation almost a year ago since he felt the political climate of Boracay was changing. He is now looking to move his wellness business to Siargao or Puerto Galera. According to a masseuse at that spa, employees will be relocated to a resort in Palawan.
Boracay is still home and paradise to many. Some people who have been living and working in the island are scrambling to get their IDs because entry to the island is not allowed without a resident ID or a terminal pass, which is issued for non-residents who work in Boracay.
I also spoke to some foreign nationals who live there. They said they’re sad about leaving the island and expressed how much they’ll miss the friends they’ve made while living there. Some of them have mentioned the possibility of moving to Siargao and Palawan.
I’ve been coming to Boracay since the '90s. It has magic like no other beaches I’ve been to around the world. Maybe it’s the amazing sunsets, the warm people, the powdery white sand beach or the overall vibe. Whatever it is, I sure hope it doesn’t change a whole lot after the rehabilitation. We’ll just have to wait and see.