The task force, composed of the environment, tourism and the interior and local government departments, also said all “LaBoracay parties” will no longer be allowed pending closure of the island. Philstar.com/File Photo

Task force wants 6-month Boracay shutdown on April 26
Robertzon Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 24, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The inter-agency task force on Boracay is recommending the total closure of the island for six months starting April 26, but stakeholders are appealing for a reconsideration, saying rehabilitation and a construction moratorium can be done without a shutdown.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said yesterday members of the task force met Thursday and came out with the recommendation, which will be forwarded to the Office of the President.

The task force, composed of the environment, tourism and the interior and local government departments, also said all “LaBoracay parties” will no longer be allowed pending closure of the island.

Sen. Joel Villanueva called on the administration to reconsider its plan to close Boracay, saying it will be more practical to penalize the establishments violating environmental laws while rehabilitation is going on.

Jose Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said there must be ample time to adjust before the closure takes effect.

“On the side of the operators, let us finish our bookings one year forward. And then we can stop selling…that will give us enough time to book them (clients) somewhere else,” Clemente said in a press conference held by stakeholders on Thursday.

Boracay Foundation Inc. board member Leonard Tirol said a partial closure would be more workable, while other stakeholders noted only those that violated the laws should be shut down.

The stakeholders said the closure should not be done during summer or peak season but during the lean months.

President Duterte has said he would support a six-month closure of the island but presidential spokesman Harry Roque clarified on Thursday there is no final decision yet and that those planning to spend the Holy Week in Boracay can go ahead.

Total shutdown not the answer

While the province of Aklan, along with Boracay tourism stakeholders, pledged support for the rehabilitation of the island, Clemente told The STAR this could be done in phases or without totally shutting down the island.

“We have to remember that Boracay is just one place, but you cannot separate that from the Philippines,” Clemente said.

“You cannot isolate Boracay. It’s part of the total Philippine tourism product. Eventually, when you take Boracay out of the picture, it will not only be Boracay that will be affected (but) the entire Philippines,” Clemente said.

Villanueva said the government should take a firmer and more aggressive stance against violators of environmental laws and allow the compliant establishments to remain open.
“Implementation of these laws need not require a unilateral and immediate closure of the island. Violators should be penalized, fined and imprisoned, based on the provisions of the applicable laws,” Villanueva said.

“Areas of the island and compliant establishments that are still manageable should remain open. Affected employees and informal workers should be provided with contingency plans and livelihood assistance,” he added.

Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resource development, raised his concern about the impact of the closure of Boracay would  have on the jobs of the people.

Stakeholders said the closure of the island will put at stake the jobs of 36,000 people and some P56 billion in revenues generated by Boracay.
The island has also drawn an all-time high of over two million local and foreign tourists in 2017, an increase of 16 percent from 2016 based on the data of the Department of Tourism. 

“We reiterate our position against a total closure of Boracay. An unqualified closure of the island, especially for an extended period of time, could result in irreversible economic losses for compliant establishments and for those who rely on Boracay for their livelihood,” Villanueva said.

“For all its problems, Boracay remains at the heart of our country’s tourism program… Through the years, the Philippine government has spent billions of pesos in promoting the natural beauty of Boracay and its people. We cannot force a direct closure of the entire island without consideration of its impact on the people of Boracay and our national tourism program,” he added. 

Clemente also said the government should focus on rehabilitation and development of the island paradise instead of allowing the construction of casino-resorts in the area.  

“We have already been calling for the moratorium (on) the building of further structures in Boracay and we’ve already seen how crowded it can be, and to add more facilities or infrastructure there, without proper study, might not be in the best interest of the island,” Clemente said. 

“It is important maybe to just focus on the (rehabilitation), fixing up whatever needs to be fixed and then let’s consider later on how much more can really be added to Boracay as far as hotels and other establishments are concerned,” he added.

Clemente was reacting to the planned construction of two major casinos as announced by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) despite the impending closure of the island.

Pagcor recently announced it had approved the proposal of Resorts World Manila to have its gaming operations in Boracay as well as the construction of the casino-resort of Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group and its local partner, AB Leisure Exponent Inc. by next year 

Roque earlier defended the government’s decision to approve the construction of the casinos before Duterte’s pronouncement on the closure of Boracay due to its water pollution problem. 

Contingency plans

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said it has prepared contingency plans should the closure of Boracay push through.

Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson, said they will make the necessary adjustments and will be ready to assist passengers in rebooking, refunding and rerouting their flights in such a scenario. 

PAL said their adjustments will depend on the scope and duration of the Boracay closure, and “we will also take into account the need to retain some flights to serve the residents and businesses in Kalibo and the rest of the Aklan province.”

According to Villaluna, the airline also intends to help minimize any impact on tourism, its passengers and the airline operations by redirecting flights to other routes where PAL can continue to promote domestic and international tourist travel for the Philippines during the temporary closure period.  – Rhodina Villanueva, Marvin Sy, Catherine Talavera, Rudy Santos

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BORACAY CLOSURE TOURISM
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