Boracay stakeholders sound urgent plea to hold off island’s total closure

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Aerial view of world-famous Boracay island. Photo courtesy of DOT.

MANILA – Boracay tourism stakeholders have opposed the total closure of what has been called the world’s most beautiful island, saying this will do more harm than good in the government’s avowed determination to rid it of environmental pollution and illegal structures.

According to the group calling itself the Boracay Tourism Stakeholders the impact on the tourism industry, particularly 36,000 workers to be displaced by a total closure, will be immense.

The collateral damage of punitive measures on violators of national and local regulations will hit not just the compliant hotels, resorts and restaurants and their workers. Also suffering disruption are thousands relying on daily incomes like vendors and boatmen, the group pointed out in a press conference Thursday.

According to Jose Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, the stakeholders are open to helping find solutions to the situation of Boracay’s degradation.

He said they support President Duterte’s campaign to clean up and rehabilitate Boracay; however, the tourism industry is anxious about the specific plans and timelines for the upgrading of Boracay Island, considering the relevant agencies have not disclosed how exactly they plan to carry out the cleanup and rehabilitation and what is the role of stakeholders.

The alliance made it clear they do not intend to block Duterte’s avowed program for Boracay, but the stakeholders are appealing to him to use his office to ensure a full dialogue between them and the Office of the President and the concerned government agencies so that their insights can be heard.

One of the alliance leaders, Leonard Tirol, said the association also wants Duterte to know that certain vital reforms have been accomplished at Boracay, since news first broke about the President’s dismay and the plan to close down the world-acclaimed island in Aklan province.

The local government units and the stakeholders have moved to improve the area especially around Barangagy Yapak, where several controversial establishments have been shuttered.

Several other establishments undertook voluntary demolition to make way for the regulatory 5′ by 15′ road widening.

The stakeholders will not resist, said the officials, if the government goes ahead and closes the island, but stressed that government must consider only a partial closure. A total closure would be unfair to those complying with the requirements, they said.

The stakeholders are asking for a period of 60 days, from April to May, to undergo individual cleanup and rehabilitation for the owners’ respective properties.

Moreover, only those properties violating the environment and zoning regulations should be closed.

Before the 60 days is up, the government can conduct an assessment of the situation, and only then should total closure be considered if the cleanup and rehabilitation is not enough.

MOTORBOAT ASSOCIATION

Meanwhile, the motorboat association appealed to Duterte to hold off on the total closure of Boracay island so their families won’t starve.

Missing just one day of work already means dire straits for them as they have nothing to bring home to their families; what more a total closure lasting months? the motorboat association said.

The groups said the “LGUs and stakeholders did everything [to clean up the place and tear down illegal structures]. That was not publicized.”

The biggest and controversial facility, Westcove Hotel, has been temporarily closed after a voluntary demolition of illegal structures.

“This is not a protest . . . The workers are appealing to you not to close Boracay,” the group said, addressing Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and DILG officer in charge Eduardo Año.

“We are for cleanup . . . Give time to stakeholders to get revenue for workers,” they added, pointing out that a total closure in April May and June would run smack into the peak of summer, when tourist arrivals surge.

“Spare time to meet with us,” they asked Cimatu and Año.

HOW ABOUT CASINOS?

Meanwhile, the stakeholders are sharing the concern raised by various groups about the provisional license granted by gaming regulator PAGCOR to one of two casino businesses looking to set up shop at the island.

If the proponents of Boracay’s closure are invoking the notion of carrying capacity being exceeded, then what makes government think allowing two more casinos – even while the rest of the island is on total shutdown – would be a sound and logical idea? critics have asked.

“We are in unison and we are calling for a moratorium of further structures in Boracay,” they said, adding it is “important to focus on rehabilitation and consider how much more can be added to Boracay.”

The House Tourism committee, chaired by Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez, had earlier announced their panel report would back closure of the island to allow for a cleanup and rehabilitation, but at the same time said the government should bar new construction projects.