May 28, 2018, 5:04 am
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Boracay placed under state of calamity

PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday placed all three barangays in Boracay Island under a under a state of calamity and said the closure of the island-resort, which started yesterday, will be up to October 25 this year.

The declaration was contained in Proclamation Order No. 475 which states that the state of calamity covers Barangay Balabag, Manoc-Manoc, and Yapak in Boracay, Malay town in Aklan province. Malay has 17 barangays, including the three of Boracay. 

The order directs Malay to ensure no tourist will enter Boracay until the closure is lifted. 

The six-month closure is being implemented to allow clean-up and rehabilitation work on the island which President Duterte earlier said has become a “cesspool” because of insufficient sanitary and sewage treatment facilities.

“The continuous rise of tourist arrivals, the insufficient sewer and waste management system, and environmental violations of establishments aggravates the environmental degradation and destroy the ecological balance of the island of Boracay resulting in major damage to property and natural resource, as well as disruption of the normal way of life of the people,” the proclamation order read.

“It is necessary to implement urgent measures to address the above-mentioned human-induced hazards to protect and promote the health and well-being of its residents, workers and tourists, and to rehabilitate the island in order to ensure the sustainability of the area ad prevent further degradation of the its rich ecosystem,” it added.

The six-month total closure to tourists stemmed from a recommendation of an inter-agency task force that assessed the situation in the island. The inter-agency has said it is possible to have a soft-opening of the island after just four months.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo urged authorities and those opposed to the closure to put aside their grievances and work with government.

“This is for the good of Boracay,” she told the news channel ANC. “They have to help us because Boracay will be back to the way it was years ago.”

The legality of the closure has been questioned by some critics and political opponents, who argue it is too drastic and say it denies citizens their right to free movement.

On Wednesday, three Boracay residents asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the closure of the island.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court directed Malacañang to comment on the petition. In special en banc session, the SC gave the respondents – Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Interior officer in charge Eduardo Año -- 10 days from receipt of notice to comply with the order.

DESERTED BEACH

On the first day of the closure, volunteers combed near-empty beaches and workers boarded up shops.

Some other volunteers cleared seaweed and trash along the coast, while diggers, trucks and heavy-duty machinery were moved in across the island, slowing the departure of the last trickle of tourists.

Workers in orange vests and hard hats dug up pipes and smashed down walls with sledge hammers, part of efforts to widen a slender spine road and demolish illegal buildings that capitalized on decades of lax regulation.

For the first time in years, Boracay’s most famous beach was almost deserted. Gone were the lines of umbrellas and sun loungers, as well as hordes of tourists and vendors, that characterized the explosive, unchecked growth of what was once a quiet paradise island.

The closure is likely to affect the livelihoods of an estimated 30,000 people reliant on Boracay’s 2 million annual visitors, but many residents feel Duterte’s intervention was necessary.

A few remaining tourists posed for rare, crowd-free selfies in front of blue waters that have been for years cluttered with an armada of neon-sailed boats.

On Thursday, the boats had gone, replaced by a Coast Guard ship lingering on the horizon and small navy boats policing a 3-kilometer no-go zone. A day earlier, Army helicopters ran regular sorties just meters above people playing in the sea.

A sewage system on the brink of collapse put Boracay on the government’s radar two months ago. Further inspection revealed a catalogue of environmental breaches across an island just 10 square kilometers in size.

PNP chief Oscar Albayalde ordered policemen deployed in the Island not to enter any closed establishment or sleep there to prevent allegations of looting or vandalizing any property.

Albayalde issued the instruction as he visited the island resort to check on the readiness of his men to secure the area.

“Even if they are offered by the caretakers or owners to rest or sleep inside these establishments especially the hotels for demolition, it is not allowed. I just want them to be spared from being accused of any wrongdoing,” he said adding the policemen will have to sleep in tents provided them.

He ordered the ground commander to deploy a minimum of 500 policemen at a given shift to keep an eye on the island’s 16 stations. – With JP Lopez, Raymond Africa and Reuters
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