Senate Environment Panel Chair Villar: Close only erring Boracay establishments

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — Senator Cynthia Villar told Boracay stakeholders on Friday she would recommend closing only erring Boracay establishments instead of the shutting down the whole island.

Speaking at the Senate hearing on the issue, Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Chairman Villar said the government must reward establishments that comply, and punish those who violate the law.

“He (Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu) has to talk to the President about it, but we’re recommending that if ever we will close establishments, those that are not compliant will be closed and those that are compliant will remain open,” Villar said.

Villar said this amid concerns that the government may temporarily shut down Boracay to address issues plaguing the destination.

Boracay, which last year generated an estimated P56 billion, is one of the country’s top tourists spots. According to the Interior Department more than 17,000 workers are stationed in the island.

However, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has recently eyed declaring a state of calamity in the island, and a possible 60-day closure following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to clean up the world-famous tourist destination.

READ: DILG eyes 6-month state of calamity in Boracay

The proposal has worried stakeholders, who fear the closure would come at the expense of those depending on the island for their livelihood.

Instead of a business shutdown, they have asked the government to penalize businesses with violations instead.

At the Senate hearing, Villar clarified while the matter still needs to be discussed with the President, she is more inclined to suggest the closure of establishments with violations and not the whole island.

“Ang suggestion natin, ipasara yung non-compliant at bayaang bukas yung compliant [Our suggestion is to close the non-compliant and let the compliant establishments operate]," said Villar. "We have to reward those who are complying with the laws, and then we punish those who are not complying with the laws.”

DILG reported Friday over 800 establishments in Boracay island are facing various violations.

RELATED: DILG: Over 800 Boracay establishments have violations

DOT calls for establishment of Boracay Development Authority

There were also calls for the national government to step in and create a Boracay Development Authority to oversee development in the tourist destination.

Senator Migz Zubiri likened the proposed agency to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority tasked with managing the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Central Luzon.

“I am ready to present, together with my colleagues a plan of action in terms of legislation by the creation of a Boracay Development Authority. It, I believe, is a long time coming,” Zubiri said.

He said given Boracay's situation, it seemed local officials could no longer handle the island on their own.

"From what I see, it has gone beyond their control and national government has to step in already in the creation of this authority to give a master plan, and the master plan has to be implemented," he said.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo agreed with the Senate’s suggestion.

“Once Boracay is fixed, we would like that we have this Boracay Island Development Authority that you’re planning para po maayos ang Boracay [So we can fix Boracay],” she said.

Boracay’s tourism development plan was turned over to the island’s local government unit in 1991 with the passage of the local government code.

Senators also grilled the Malay local government for giving Mayor’s permits to establishments without the required environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Environment Department.

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

Zubiri pointed out there are 173 big establishments in Boracay operating without ECCs.

When questioned by Senators, Malay Mayor Ceciron Cawaling said the ECC is given by the national government, and is separate from the local government.

He said, the issuance of a mayor’s permit goes through proper processes, adding they check prerequisites such as building permits and zoning clearances before they issue the document.