Shorter Boracay closure possible – officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 5) — Boracay may be opened to tourists even before the six-month closure ends, officials said Thursday.

The inter-agency group tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to rehabilitate Boracay raised the possibility of a shorter closure period.

"It is not to the interest of everybody to go the full six months… We may be able to have a soft opening in three to four months. It's possible," Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said in a media briefing.

He said stakeholders and local officials are already carrying out some rehabilitation actions such as dismantling illegal structures and conducting a drainage audit.

"By that time substantial na ang pag-aayos ng drainage. Natanggal na ang illegal structures," Densing said.

[Translation: By that time, there would be substantial changes. Drainage will be fixed. Illegal structures would have been removed.]

He asked for the help of residents, stakeholders, and local government units. The Tourism Department is also planning a massive clean-up drive ahead of the island's closure on April 26.

"We have to fast track everything. The only way to do this is to ask everybody, all the stakeholders, to be part of the whole rehabilitation process. If everybody comes into the picture, we can cut the process by two months," Densing said.

The government is looking at dismantling at least half of the 948 illegal structures within the closure period.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday ordered the six-month closure of Boracay from tourists based on the recommendation of an inter-agency task force. The group said the island has poor sewerage system causing contamination of the beach, inefficient solid waste management, and illegal structures in forestland, wetlands, and easement.

"It's a temporary setback but we will bring back the glory days of Boracay," Tourism Assistant Ricky Alegre said.

Compliant or noncompliant?

The task to rehabilitate Boracay gets challenging as more environmental negligence surface every day.

Alegre said they have discovered some establishments with false claims on complying with environmental rules.

"We are still discovering pipes that have been hidden from us all these years… One hotel, which claimed it was compliant, was found not to have sanitary permit… Akala namin compliant, 'yun pala hindi. (We thought they were compliant, but apparently not) This will give us enough time to probe," he said.

From May to August, the inter-agency group will conduct an environmental compliance audit of all 2,600 establishments.

"They have to submit all documents. DILG will look at the facilities if it complies with the environmental standards," Densing said.

Other issues are hounding the island besides environmental degradation.

The Environment Department is studying Boracay's capacity as it plans to regulate entry of tourist and building of infrastructure.

"That's the most critical part in what we're doing," Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones said.

Administrative cases may be filed against concerned local officials on or before April 14 over Boracay's deterioration.