By Tara Yap
BORACAY, Aklan—Less than 24 hours before world-famous Boracay Island will be closed off, the presence of anti-riot police and helicopters made remaining tourists uneasy.
“It was a little disturbing,” said Sebastian Lopes, a 14-year-old British-Indian who is on vacation with his family.
Law enforcement authorities did their final simulation exercises Wednesday morning along the white beach of the famous resort island in Malay town, Aklan province.
Combined forces and assets of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Army (PA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Navy (PN), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and the disaster management team of Malay town responded to scenarios of controlling protesters, the entry of terrorist elements, hostage situation, and rescue operations.
“This morning, we saw a helicopter go past us. My mom said it was a bit scary. I thought it was also scary. We thought Boracay would be closed down for renovation but we weren’t really sure why the helicopter was going around,” Sebastian told Manila Bulletin before taking a swim.
“This is a little adversarial. We’ve reading in the Lonely Planet how nice Boracay is, but this is not what we expected,” added Sebastian.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t understand why they are so many police officers,” echoed Elizabeth Smith.
“It’s very strange. This doesn’t happen in other places,” the 24-year-old from England added while recalling that she never saw so many cops in other beach destinations she visited in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Amidst criticisms, the PNP maintained that the presence of 600 security forces is a precautionary measure.
“On the contrary, I think this would be a positive effect. The people will feel they are secured in the island,” said PNP Deputy Director General Fernando Mendez Jr.
“The very reason we are deploying additional forces is to make sure that the closure will be peaceful and we can provide an environment that will ensure the unhampered rehabilitation of the different government agencies,” he added.
There were also tourists who welcomed the presence of law enforcement authorities.
“It’s better the police and military people are here than no one. It’s for security. I can ask them for help when I need help,” said Feller Frederic of Switzerland. The 28-year-old even told Manila Bulletin that there were cops and military deployed while they were in Paris, France last year to avert any terror threats.
“I’m not a bit scared at all. If anything, I feel safer,” added Kim Paulding from Australia
A.C. Saldo from Bacolod City pointed out that there’s a need for more security forces as it is still uncertain what will happen during the closure.
“It is necessary. Someone will actually protest because there will be massive demolition,” she added.