Since Boracay is a booming tourism destination, the President said his concern is the public interest. Photo

Duterte eyes state of calamity in Boracay
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is eyeing the declaration of a state of calamity in the island resort of Boracay, citing issues of public interest, health and safety.

Speaking at the oathtaking of new officers of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission in Malacañang, Duterte said he has given Interior and Local Government acting Secretary Eduardo Año six months to deal with the problem.

“In the meantime, if I were from Boracay, you guys there, the best thing for you to do is cooperate in the cleanup,” he said.

“For as long as there are sh*t coming from the pipes, draining to the sea, I will never give you the time of day to return,” Duterte said.

Since Boracay is a booming tourism destination, the President said his concern is the public interest. 

He also cited public safety and health.

“I am invoking it,” he said. “I can order for this to happen because of public interest, public safety and public health.”

He also cautioned the courts not to issue a temporary restraining order “so as not to exacerbate the issue.”

Amid opposition from several stakeholders, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) maintained that a temporary closure of Boracay Island is necessary.

“We need to tear down the road system to check the drainage as well as the establishments that illegally connect to it,” DILG Assistant Secretary for plans and programs Epimaco Densing III told radio station Bombo Radyo yesterday.

Densing also lamented the discovery that five of the island’s nine wetlands have been wiped out, causing floods last December.

“Definitely, that’s a violation of a major environmental law. If you try to think about it, wetlands are the natural catchbasin of rainwater. It could stop flooding of a place,” he said.

The DILG has been keeping a close watch on illegal settlers who try to build any structure in the remaining wetlands on the island, Densing said.

During their aerial inspection last Thursday, Densing concluded that Boracay could not be called paradise anymore, as all he saw were buildings and construction sites.

As earlier established, there are hundreds of structures in Boracay that have allegedly violated the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) prohibition on construction on forest lands and easement rules.

Densing added that they found establishments that were given a mayor’s permit even without fire safety inspection certificates, warning that workers in the local government units would be held accountable if they are found guilty of wrongdoing.

Philippine National Police (PNP) officials were set to conduct on-site inspections of establishments suspected of violations within the week.

“This is a strategic action of the PNP to evaluate the current situation on the island and to ensure the maintenance of peace and order there,” Densing said.

Earlier, Año was open to an immediate shutdown of Boracay while Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo recommended it be done during the rainy season when tourist arrivals are lean.

However, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said the closure would make repairs difficult to monitor.

As this developed, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is collaborating with the Department of Labor and Employment to create alternative livelihood options for workers affected by the ongoing cleanup of Boracay.

In a statement, Teo acknowledged the possibility of job displacements and economic dislocation due to the current upgrade of the island.

Last year, Boracay welcomed over two million local and foreign tourists, a 16 percent rise from 2016.

The island also employed the most number of workers in the Western Visayas region last year with 17,737 direct tourism employment, accounting for 66 percent of the entire region.

DOT regional director for Western Visayas Helen Catalbas said most of the workers in the island are from Cebu, Negros, Manila and other provinces in Luzon.

The DOT said its Western Visayas office is coordinating with other local government units in its efforts to relocate employees who may be laid off during the rehabilitation of the island.

“Those who will be affected can work with the demolition of illegal structures and the construction of the improved sewage system and road infrastructure,” Teo said.

Meanwhile, the DOT is urging hotel and tourism establishments to polish and update their facilities and manpower during the island upgrade.  – Jennifer Rendon, Catherine Talavera, Paolo Romero

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