Why did the Philippines close the resort island of Boracay?

Boracay West Cove

The government of the Philippines closed Boracay to tourists for six months starting April 26, 2018 in a bid to fix the sewerage and water treatment facilities and discipline the commercial establishments on the 1,000-hectare resort island.

About 30,000 workers were displaced when the government declared the 10-square-kilometer island off-limits to visitors. Boracay which is composed of four barangays (villages) in Malay, Aklan was recognized as the Best Island in the World by international magazine Condé Nast Traveler in 2016.

More than 800 establishments on the island, mostly resorts and restaurants, served a record 2 million foreign and domestic tourists in 2017, making Boracay the most popular beach destination in the Philippines. The biggest number of visitors came from China (375,284) and South Korea (356,644).

The National Economic and Development Authority in Western Visayas said the closure of Boracay Island to tourists is necessary for the government to swiftly and effectively carry out corrective measures for the sustainable use and management of what the country considers as a prime national asset.

NEDA Region VI Office (NRO-VI) said the Boracay closure, notwithstanding its social and economic impact, will pave the way for the rehabilitation and improvement of the solid waste management and sewerage systems, along with the protection of ecologically fragile areas in the island.

“Government personnel and resources are being mobilized to carry out a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. Such plan will adopt guidelines that will take into consideration the island’s environmental characteristics, carrying capacity, and legal concerns following Presidential Proclamation No. 1064 signed in 2006,” it said.

“Emergency responses have been lined up to take care of vulnerable groups that will be mostly affected by the closure, including workers, families, students, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, farmers, traders, and transport stakeholders,” NEDA said.

The provincial government of Aklan also started removing illegal structures, checking infrastructure and connections and issuing notices for violations of easement provisions.

NRO-VI said the coordinated, synchronized and systematic delivery of these activities, with the cooperation of national and regional government agencies, local government units, private groups, and non-government organizations, should fast track the accomplishment of tasks and deliverables.

It also expects that, with the full support of stakeholders, the rehabilitation during and after the temporary closure will revitalize the tourism industry in Boracay, making it more sustainable in the medium to long term.

“Right now, we must look into the future and take a concerted effort to improve the conditions of Boracay. We must restore its beauty which has captivated and drawn people from all over the world for a long time,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director-General Ernesto M. Pernia said.

Pernia said efforts toward the development of Boracay are in line with strategies in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 of ensuring ecological integrity and a clean and healthy environment.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has unveiled the redevelopment plan for the resort island of Boracay as early as 10 years ago.

The plan was supposed to give existing developers a ten-year transition period to comply with the new plan and investors to build more hotels and resorts over 123 hectares of new areas.

Architectural consultancy firm CEST Inc. even prepared a comprehensive land use plan to enable Boracay to accommodate as many as 2.2 million visitors by 2018.

"If we don't follow this Boracay land use plan, we won't be able to accommodate 2 million visitors in ten years," former Tourism Secretary Ace Durano was quoted as saying then.

The plan involved the revitalization of the entire coastline of Boracay, with particular focus on the White Beach and Barangay Balabag, where most resorts are presently located.

It sought to spread the concentration of commercial activities from the White Beach area in Balabag to Barangay Yapak in the north.

The Supreme Court earlier confirmed Proclamation No. 1064 issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in May 2006, which declared the island as public domain.

The Supreme Court said Congress may enact a law to entitle private claimants to acquire their occupied lots or to exempt them from certain requirements under the present land laws

Taskforce Boracay

Task Force Boracay, in an inter-agency meeting held on May 18, 2018 in Haven Suite, Boracay, said about P1.36 billion would be needed for the various rehabilitation efforts being undertaken by its member agencies in the six-month closure period of the island.

The amount is expected to cover the cost of providing social safety nets, ensuring health and sanitation, decongesting the island, enforcing rule of law, engaging stakeholders, and crafting and implementing a Medium-Term Rehabilitation and Recovery Program.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that the budgetary requirements for the island rehabilitation would be sourced from the budgets of the government agencies involved, pending a consolidated budget request from Task Force Boracay. Funds may also be sourced from the Contingent Fund or the Calamity Fund.

“I’m confident that once Boracay reopens in a few months, that it will be a more attractive destination for our tourists,”Diokno said. “Of course, our work will not stop there. A long term plan is needed to ensure the entirety of the island is not only beautiful, but structurally sound and environmentally sustainable.”

A number of major infrastructure projects are currently being undertaken in the area. Some P490 million was released to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), to fast-track the implementation of the Boracay Circumferential Road augmentation project in Aklan. This is in addition to the P50 million allocation in the FY 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) is also spending around P8 million to P10 million from its own budget to rehabilitate the island’s waste water management system by constructing temporary outfalls, opening drainage systems and de-clogging critical areas.

26 April 2018


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