Six months ago, on April 26, 2018, Boracay was closed down.
After waging a vicious war on drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte turned to the island paradise and drew his iron fist once again. He ordered the island closed to tourists for 6 months until October 26, 2018.
It was a "cesspool" where water smelled like "shit," the President said, justifying his directive.
Government said the closure was meant for rehabilitation, but those who opposed it said the closure was too abrupt and came too suddenly.
Thousands lost their jobs, gross domestic product (GDP) dipped, and tourists had to cancel hotel bookings. Was Boracay’s closure worth all the trouble?
Locals said the shutdown was long overdue. For many, it was a sacrifice they were willing to take. But not all were happy because it meant 6 months without work and 6 months without income. Many were worried they would not survive 6 months of uncertainty.
Rappler takes a close look at the effects of this closure – on the people, businesses, and the environment.
When the President announced the closure in February, locals were not consulted about it. Neither did government ask them what they thought about the order.
One thing was clear to them: there would be no partying for “Laboracay,” the annual Labor Day event that draws thousands of tourists, rakes in earnings, and for which they had stocked up.
Here are images of Boracay workers.
They had wished that the biggest event of the year would allow them to save up money for the rest of the closure, but instead, it left them in debt.
From a daily earning of roughly P2,000, they were left with nothing. About 17,000 hotel and restaurant workers and 2,000 informal sector workers were suddenly all left without jobs or any source of income.
The closure caused massive unemployment, but government promised there would be jobs.
At P323 a day – the minimum wage in Western Visayas – the Department of Labor and Employment provided 30-day jobs to the affected residents. But there was a catch – they were one-offs and simultaneous applications with another relative were not allowed.
Though far from ideal, the offers were better than nothing. “Do we have a choice?” the locals asked.
Not long after, government centers that gave financial assistance and temporary work were packed with applicants.
When the clock struck midnight on April 26, the world’s ultimate party island took time out from all the EDM beats and tequila shots. It was time for rehabilitation.
Then cash suddenly dried up in Boracay.
The National Economic and Development Authority initially downplayed the economic impact of the closure and projected to chip off only 0.1% of the country's GDP.
However, the 2nd quarter GDP grew at a dismal 6%, snapping the record of 10 straight quarters of at least 6.5% quarterly growth. The 7% to 8% target will likely be missed again.
The tourism industry in 2017 was the 3rd top contributor to the country's economy, with 20% of the total income generated by the sector coming from Boracay. Over two million tourists visited Boracay in 2017.
Over 17,000 workers were displaced because of the closure.
The government shrugged off the discouraging numbers.
“If GDP will further fall because of the desire of the President to protect the environment, so be it. We’re investing in the future, not just the present,” former presidential spokesman Harry Roque once said.
Despite the eco-warrior pronouncements, talk of a casino rising on pristine Boracay persisted.
Officials of the Department of Tourism and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had said the planned casino wouldn’t push through. They insisted that all gambling operations on the island would be banned.
Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd and local partner Leisure and Resorts World Corporation, however, said their plans are on track and are not affected by the closure.
Is government giving a high-roller a free pass at the expense of locals?
Government said the closure is all for the environment. Wait after 6 months, officials said.
The environment department has long sounded the alarm on water pollution in Boracay.
Three years and a different administration ago, environment officials had already vowed to stop the operations of erring establishments.
There’s a long list of environmental problems in Boracay, but the sewage is probably the most pressing one, especially for a famous tourist destination that prides itself with having clear, blue waters.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said as much. “Boracay's sewage is the number one problem in the island.”
The President also believes it is this problem that is wreaking havoc on the island's ecosystem.
This is why Cimatu’s first promise went like this: “We will make sure that Boracay’s waters will consistently pass international water quality standards.”
He enumerated a checklist that promised to resuscitate the island:
- fast-track the improvement and completion of drainage and sewage systems
- dispose of residual and bio waste through eco-friendly technologies
- rehabilitate wetlands
- remove illegal structures, piled-up debris, sediments, and invasive alien species from life-giving areas
- help forests recover
- establish the Boracay Island Critical Habitat
As his department took on the challenge of rehabilitating the island, Cimatu said in April, “Our task to clean up and make Boracay a livable community and an enhanced tourism destination will be continuing even beyond the 6-month closure period.”
Now the rest of the country and the world are waiting to see what a clean and green Boracay will look like. – Rappler.com
- Reporting by Aika Rey, Ralf Rivas
- Editing by Paterno Esmaquel II, Jee Y. Geronimo, Chay Hofileña
- Graphics by Alejandro Edoria, Raffy de Guzman, Janina Malinis
- Photos and videos by Angie de Silva and Adrian Portugal
- Design by Patrick Santos