People associated with the tourism industry are miffed over President Duterte's threat to temporarily shut down Boracay Island to prevent environmental degradation. Can a compromise be reached? Ana P. Santos reports.
Boracay Island in the central Philippines, with its white sand and crystal blue waters, attracts more than a million tourists and an estimated €627 million ($772.5 million) in revenue every year. But the massive tourism on Boracay has caused serious environmental damage to this beautiful island.
A 2015 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) showed the coral reef on Boracay has been seriously degraded by tourism-related activities, whereas unregulated commercial development has threatened the island's ecosystem. The study also revealed that the water quality on the island is deteriorating due to the direct discharge of untreated waste water near the shoreline.
Earlier this year, the Boracay Foundation urged the Philippine government to protect the island from further environmental degradation. Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte dubbed Boracay a "cesspool" and threatened to close down the island if the sewage system was not fixed and illegal constructions not shut down within next six months.
Following Duterte's threat, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) deployed a fact finding team to Boracay Island, which is located about 308 kilometers (190 miles) south of the capital Manila.
"We have drafted a six-month action plan that will address the president's concerns on environmental law compliance, the drainage system and the presence of illegal structures," Rowen Aguirre, executive assistant to Boracay's mayor, told DW.
Aguirre says the local government has begun shutting down businesses that have been operating without a permit.
On March 15, the DENR recommended the closure of the island for one year to give the government "ample time for the undisrupted implementation" of the island's restoration.
President Duterte has to take a final decision on the island's closure, but the DENR's announcement has caused anxiety and confusion among residents and business owners on Boracay.
"There is a lot of confusion about the closure. Has the central government taken into consideration the impact of Boracay's closure on property owners? What are we, the business owners, supposed to do if the government shuts down the island?" Randall Parker, a US national who owns a resort on Boracay, told DW.
But Crisostomo Aquino, another resort owner, believes the closure would be a bitter pill to swallow for the sake of the island. "I love Boracay very much. The island needs to breathe. It has been molested for too long and it is time to do something to save it. If we must close it down for a while to restore it, I am willing to make a sacrifice," Aquino told DW.
The Philippine government could also declare a "state of calamity" for Boracay Island. According to the country's laws, apart from natural disasters, human-induced destruction could also qualify as "calamity."
"This would allow the government to immediately disburse funds needed for rehabilitation efforts. It will also allow the government to access funds that can be used to support business operators and employees who will be affected by a possible closure," Frederick Alegre, a spokesperson for the Department of Tourism Public Affairs, told DW.
While the Boracay cleanup is underway, it is "business as usual" for the business owners on the island.
Elena Tosco Brugger, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Boracay, told DW she would do anything to prevent the island's closure.
"We support the president's call to restore the island. But it can be done by cleaning up one area [of the island] at a time. A [complete] closure cannot be justified. It would be a drastic measure that would harm the entire tourism industry and thousands of people who depend on it. What we need now is [a] compromising solution," said Brugger.