By Genalyn Kabiling
The six-month closure of Boracay may be reduced by two months if more people would support the government’s efforts to save the island from further environmental decay, according to an official of an inter-agency task force.
Interior and Local Government Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said the government intends to fast track the rehabilitation of Boracay to attain a possible soft opening even before the six-month closure ends.
“If we will go through the full six months, it could reach around P18 to P20 billion potential loss in gross receipts. That’s why it is not to the interest of everybody to go the full six months,” he said during a press briefing in Malacanang.
“We have to fast track everything. The only way to be able to do this is to ask everybody, all the stakeholders, to be part of the whole rehabilitation process. We have been receiving volunteers outside Boracay that they want to go into the island and help in the rehab process. So if everybody can come into the picture, we can cut the process by at least two months,” he added.
Densing raised the possible shorter closure period of Boracay amid the ongoing rehabilitation efforts, such as dismantling of illegal structures and conducting a drainage audit, by authorities and other stakeholders.
“We may be able to have a soft opening in three to four months. It’s possible,” he said.
“By that time, substantial na iyong pag-aayos ng drainage—maayos na iyong drainage, natanggal na iyong illegal structures [By that time, there would be substantial changes. The drainage will be fixed. Illegal structures would have been dismantled],” he added.
President Duterte recently gave the green light to shut down Boracay to tourists for the next six months over concerns the island, best known for its white-sand beach, has become a cesspool due to sewage problems.
The total closure of Boracay, recommended by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism (DOT), will commence on April 26 to allow authorities to rehabilitate the island.
The government, meantime, has laid down its action plan for Boracay rehabilitation in the coming months, including an inspection of all establishments for environmental compliance and upgrade of sewage and drainage systems.
The DILG is also expected to issue guidelines restricting the entry of tourists in the island during the rehabilitation period, according to Densing. The Boracay beach will also be closed even for residents. “No swimming,” he added.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the President has ordered authorities to validate which Boracay establishments were complying with the country’s laws.
“The President also said the first thing that will be done is validation on which resort owners are in compliance with environmental rules and regulations. And then he will decide what to do with resort owners that will be found fully compliant of existing rules and regulations,” Roque said in the same press briefing.
Densing said a government team would go around Boracay by May to inspect establishments and other structures, and close down or dismantle those breaking the law.
He also said they are also preparing to file charges against local government officials believed to be responsible for Boracay mess on or before April 14.
Apart from the improvement of island’s drainage system, Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones said illegal structures located in forest lands and wet lands will also be dismantled during the rehabilitation period.
Leones said they were also targeting the rehabilitation of protected areas in Boracay such as Puka beach as well as improvement of the island’s transportation system.
Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre acknowledged that the Boracay closure would affect the tourism industry but it was crucial to take the “bitter pill” to rehabilitate and protect the island.
“It’s one step backwards, two steps forward. We have to swallow the bitter pill if we wish to sustain and protect the island Boracay. We want to bring it back to its paradise feel that we saw in the 80s. It may not be achieved, but in doing this cleanup as ordered by the President, more people will come to Boracay, we assure you about that,” Alegre said in the same press conference.
“It is a temporary setback but we will recover the glory days of Boracay,” he added.
A massive cleanup drive is also being planned by the tourism department ahead of the island’s closure on April 26.
Densing said they were also studying the carrying capacity of Boracay to regulate entry of people and construction of infrastructure in the island in the future.
“That’s the most critical part in the whole process that we’re undertaking. The carrying capacity is critical looking at the island as a major tourist destination moving forward,” he added.