Three week notice of Boracay closure unfair – stakeholders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — A private body that advises government on tourism policies said the three-week notice to shut Boracay island down is unfair to the tourism industry.

"They held out on the date of closure for so long, we were not really able to adjust as much as we could," Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose Clemente III told CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday. The group is an assembly of accredited tourism enterprises and former government officials.

Asked about the lead time before the scheduled closure on April 26, he said, "For my stakeholders, no. We were asking for at least a six-month leave time so we would be able to prepare."

The Cabinet decided Wednesday to close the island for six months. Officials said the period could be shorter depending on the progress of rehabilitation work.

READ: Rebuilding Boracay: Timeline, what to expect

The scramble to clean up the world-famous tourist destination came after President Rodrigo Duterte called it "a cesspool," and threatened to shut it down permanently if its environmental problems are unsolved.

The Interior, Environment, and Tourism Departments pushed for the April 26 closure, but Budget Secretary Ben Diokno believed it was too soon, and the Trade Department recommended having it in phases. Clemente said they had high hopes the President would reconsider.

Tourism officials are advising beachgoers to divert their trips to alternative destinations in the Philippines, but Clemente is unconvinced this will prosper.

"If you're from Europe, they set their vacations one year in advance... Chances are, they will cancel the whole trip, so the Philippines loses out in the long term," said Clemente.

"We will try to rebook them to these other places. But then, puno na rin sila [those are full too] because it's peak season," he added.

Residents are concerned about the island's closure, even as the Tourism Congress estimates job losses at close to 40,000.

Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III earlier pegged revenue losses at between ₱18 and ₱20 billion, but Clemente estimates a higher amount of as much as ₱32 billion.

Annabella Wisniewski, President of Raintree Hospitality Group, told CNN Philippines they were left out in the planning and seemingly told to "take it or leave it." Her group manages hotels and restaurants on the island.

"They never included... the private sector in the planning. Nakakasama ng loob kasi hindi nila in-involve yung mga tao na maapektuhan, hindi yung mga taong naghahanap-buhay doon, yung nagtatrabaho," said Wisniewski.

[Translation: There are hard feelings because they didn't involve those who will be affected, those working and earning a livelihood there.]

She also asked whether the government could be likened to a police state, following officials saying they would bar tourists with police. "Parang hindi tama [Something's not right]," she said.

The government has assured the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) would assist those whose livelihoods were on the line. Clemente said this was not enough, citing DOLE's promise of only 5,000 jobs.

Clemente said a number of locals had a "hand-to-mouth existence," who would be completely cut from their main source of income.

"[A boatman] only makes about ₱300 to ₱600 per day. Imagine cutting that off coming into May, which is the enrolment period for kids," he said. "Huwag na natin isipin ang enrollment, anong ipapakain niya sa pamilya niya [Without even considering enrollment, what will he feed his family]?"

He also lamented that businesses that followed environmental laws and other restrictions were "being punished for the sins of other people," including lenience on the part of local and national government officials.

Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones admitted on The Source that the government also had its shortcomings. The Interior Department is preparing charges against accountable local officials.

The government announced on Thursday that a ₱2-billion calamity fund would assist displaced workers of law-abiding hoteliers and businesses.

Related: Gov't to use calamity fund to help displaced Boracay workers

The Environment Department's first order of the day following the closure is to fix the sewage system. Tourism Undersecretary Ricky Alegre said only 47 percent of 1,900 business establishments are connected to the sewage treatment plan. An area of the island has open pipes that pour out waste to the open sea.

"For the restoration of the drainage system, the governor assured us they can do it in 30 days," Leonen said. "But the upgrading of the sewer lines may take six months or more."

Watch the complete interview with Leones and Clemente here.