Sunday, 8 April 2018

PHILIPPINES: Boracay Island To Close To Tourists Over Cesspool Sewage

Philippines government has announced its popular holiday island Boracay will be closed to tourists for six months over concerns that the once idyllic white-sand resort has become a cesspool tainted by dumped sewage.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the shutdown to start April 26, his spokesman Harry Roque said late Wednesday on Twitter, without providing further detail.

The decision jeopardises the livelihoods of thousands employed as part of a bustling tourist trade on the island that each year serves some two million guests and pumps roughly $1 billion revenue into the Philippine economy.

Experts said the measure also appeared to contradict the government's own pro-development policy for the island, including the recent approval of a planned $500 million casino and resort on Boracay.

The threat of closure first emerged in February when Duterte blasted the tiny island's some 500 tourism-related hotels, restaurants and other businesses, accusing them of dumping sewage directly into the sea and turning it into a cesspool.

Officials have warned the island's drainage system is being used to send the untreated sewage into its surrounding turquoise waters.

The environment ministry says 195 businesses, along with more than 4,000 residential customers, are not connected to sewer lines.

But within weeks of Duterte lashing out at the local businesses, the Philippines gave the green light for Macau casino giant Galaxy Entertainment to begin construction next year of the casino and resort complex.

The casino contradicts all the efforts now of cleaning up and making sure Boracay goes back to the state where it doesn't violate its carrying capacity.

He added that the area has seen plenty of development because local government units and the national government agencies did not do their job of enforcing rules on land use, environmental impact assessment.

The impact of Wednesday's decision was already being felt, with domestic airlines announcing they would scale back the number of flights to the 1,000-hectare (2,470-acre) island.

There will be no income and we have bills to pay so I don't know how I will survive says a hotelier.

Officials have said they are willing to take a hard line enforcing the closure.

Government says hutting down the tourist trade could involve having ferries suspend their Boracay services and making the beaches off-limits, and stationing police there if necessary.

An iron fist is needed to bring it back to its previous condition. It will be a temporary thing, Leones said.

The Boracay Foundation Inc., a business industry association on the island, had asked the government to shut down only those violating environmental laws.

It's unfair for compliant establishments to be affected by the closure.
Miraflores said that even before the ban was announced, its shadow had hit some businesses hard in Boracay.

Tour guides have already complained that they have no more guests. There's already a huge effect, she said, adding the quays and jetties were less crowded than before.

Some couples who scheduled their weddings on the island up to a year or two in advance had cancelled their reservations even before the ban was announced.

With the tour agents also besieged with client calls on whether to pursue their planned trips.

With more than 500 hotels, Boracay employs 17,000 people, apart from 11,000 construction workers working on new projects.

Businesses in Boracay have started laying off workers less than three weeks before the scheduled 6-month closure of the resort island to tourism and as government agencies prepared contingency plans.

A hotel chain has laid off 280 mostly newly hired workers in anticipation of no guests, especially foreign tourists, during the closure.

We will decide later on our remaining employees, said the hotel official who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to issue a statement.

Business groups expect more establishments, especially the small and family-operated ones, to trim the number of workers and cut overhead costs.

A small family-operated inn in Sitio Angol in Barangay Manoc-Manoc will be sending home all its five staff members to their hometowns in Aklan while the closure is ongoing.

We cannot pay for their salaries but we will continue remitting contributions for the Social Salary System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and PagIbig Fund, the hotel manager said.

He said they still had to continue paying for electricity and water services even without guests.

An owner of a delicatessen said they had to let go of three casual workers because of the closure. They still have to discuss plans for their remaining staff.

Some business operators will absorb their hotel or resort staff in other businesses so they can continue working. Others said they would continue supporting their workers despite the closure.

We have decided to keep them even if we are closed because they have been with us for many years and they have helped us build and developed our resort, said Ruth Tirol-Jarantilla, owner of the Sea Wind Boracay resort.

The closure of the island will affect the more than 73,500 island residents, including 17,328 registered employees and 9,365 unregistered workers.

Agencies under the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council in Western Visayas will still finalize their contingency plans and measures this week.

Johnson CaƱete, Western Visayas director of the Department of Labor and Employment, earlier said the agency was preparing to assist the more than 17,000 registered workers who will be dislocated.

The proposed compensation package included a P500 insurance and compensation amounting to the regional minimum wage of P323.50 per day from 30 to 90 days.

Workers on the island were earning more than the minimum wage.

A souvenir vendor and masseuse can earn from P700 to P900 per day during the peak months for tourists.

Business groups have lamented the lack of clear plans and guidelines on how government will address the dislocation of thousands of workers and the losses of business operators especially those with bank loans and high overhead costs.

Some business operators are initiating a community support program for residents worst hit by the closure.

Our priorities are our sick relatives whose healthcare and maintenance (medicines) are dependent on Boracay tourism income and our students whose studies may be interrupted by the sudden closure, said Vicky Aguirre-Salem.

She said they were asking schools in Iloilo and the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan to allow students from families dependent on Boracay’s tourism industry to pay in installments.

They are also soliciting school supplies and uniforms to defray expenses of these families.


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