Palace: No summer shutdown for Boracay

Robertzon Ramirez, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Palace: No summer shutdown for Boracay
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the closure and rehabilitation of Boracay will not likely happen during the peak summer season.
Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Tourists may still visit Boracay during the Holy Week because the island will remain open during the summer season, Malacañang said yesterday. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the closure and rehabilitation of Boracay will not likely happen during the peak summer season.

As this developed, the island’s tourism stakeholders appealed for reconsideration of the planned closure, but should the government push through with it, to make it a partial closure.

The stakeholders, in a press conference, said the jobs of 36,000 people and some P56 billion in revenues from businesses in Boracay were at stake.

Leonard Tirol, Boracay Foundation Inc. board member, also appealed to Duterte and other government officials to hear them first, especially with the expected influx of tourists during the holiday break.

In another press briefing, Roque said: “Proceed to Boracay, especially since it’s Holy Week. I don’t think any closure will happen during the peak season of Boracay. We are looking at possibly, if the President finally accepts the recommendations, lean season.”

Roque said the President has not made a decision on whether to accept the recommendation of the agencies tasked to look into the environmental problems of the island. 

The environment, interior and local government, and tourism departments have recommended the one-year closure of the world-famous tourist spot to allow its rehabilitation.

“No specific instruction has been made by the President and if he has made a decision then, I would most certainly be the first to announce it. So, right now, there’s not been any decision,” Roque said. 

“Right now, it’s status quo.”

President Duterte said on Tuesday he would support the recommendation of the interior and local government on the Boracay clean-up. 

Roque said he would ask Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco whether the environmental issues of Boracay would be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting on April 3.

The President has likened Boracay to a cesspool because of the lack of sewerage system. He has also threatened to sue local officials who failed to address the island’s environmental problems.  

No new improvements during moratorium 

Roque also stressed that no new improvements would be allowed in Boracay while the six-month moratorium on new construction is in place, following reports about plans to establish two casino resorts in the island.  

“I don’t really know how the temporary closure will affect the casinos because they will have to construct. But what I do know is, there’s a moratorium right now in place for any further improvements in Boracay,” Roque said. 

“Warning to the developer, they should know that all their development plans hinges on what the President will decide on the issue of Boracay. But right now, there’s a moratorium on new improvements. So, they can’t build, even if they wanted to today, because of the moratorium,” he added. 

The two companies that are eyeing casino operations in Boracay are Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and Resorts World Manila, according to earlier reports. 

Roque said new establishments would have to comply with environmental standards, including the maintenance of a sewerage system. 

“If there is a closure or whatever happens to Boracay, what’s imperative now is to lay down expanded infrastructure for both drainage and sewage treatment facilities. And that’s the argument for closing Boracay, because you can’t dig the road, you can’t put wastewater treatments under the road, you can’t expand the road if you have people, tourists lurking around Boracay,” Roque said. 

“I do not know if zero-discharge will be part of the recommendation for Boracay, I would think, it should. But at the very least, all resorts should have their 

wastewater treatment facilities,” he added. 

Roque said Boracay is being rehabilitated to make it sustainable and conducive to huge developments and future businesses.

The spokesman also refuted claims that the Boracay closure was intended to allow the entry of huge businesses like casino operators. 

“I don’t think so. Because if they build a facility as big as they want to build, perhaps the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) will require what Shangri-La Boracay has, which is zero-discharge. When we talk about zero discharge, that means they are actually reusing all wastewater, treating it and reusing it either for flushing or for gardening purposes,” Roque said.  

“So, an establishment as big as this casino will probably be required to have not just an STP (sewage treatment plant), but the water recycling treatment facility. So the size will not matter for as long as necessary infrastructure are there.” 

Stakeholders want to be heard

The group of tourism stakeholders in Boracay is seeking an audience with Duterte to present their proposed solutions and their point of view on the issue.

Tirol said a partial closure would also be more acceptable so as not to adversely affect tourism in the island. He added it should also not be done during the peak season.

Tirol said the closure should be done September to November, when only a few tourists are expected to visit Boracay, instead of April when most Koreans and other nationalities travel to the island. 

But others suggested that the partial closure be done in June or the rainy season.

Jose Clemente III, Tourism Congress of the Philippines president, said “what we are looking for is a general dialogue between the government and stakeholders” and at least a year to prepare before a shutdown would be enforced.

Aside from the partial closure, the stakeholders are also proposing to give them 60 days, from April to May, to undertake individual rectification, clean-up and rehabilitation of their respective properties. 

They also proposed that the government shut down only the establishments that violated the environmental and zoning regulations and the submission of the assessment of the solutions before the 60-day period ends. 

Clemente said they were optimistic that the President and all concerned government agencies involved in the issue would listen.

“More than the effect of closure to individual business entities, the contribution of this (island) to the country’s economy cannot be disregarded,” the stakeholders said in a statement. 

Sonia Lazo, managing director of Intas Destinations, warned it would take a year or two before the Philippines can regain the country’s tourism salability if Boracay will be closed. 

“We are off here in our position in the world travel industry, but once we have negative news like the closure of Boracay, then it will fall down. It will all crumble. A lot of hard work for all of us again,” Lazo said.

“Our recovery will be far more difficult,” she said, specifically citing the European market.

Reacting to the Department of Tourism (DOT)’s claim that tourists can visit other destinations, Clemente pointed out that the readiness, capacity and security of other destinations should be addressed. 

While the issue on Boracay closure is raging, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it will improve the infrastructure in the island to make travel more convenient.

In a statement, the DPWH Region 6 Director Wenceslao Leaño reported to Public Works Secretary Mark Villar that the construction for the P220-million access road project to Caticlan Airport is already underway, along with the improvement of Boracay Circumferential Road with an allocation of P50 million. – Evelyn Macairan, Louella Desiderio

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