Philippines to declare state of calamity at Boracay island

An aerial view of Boracay Island in the central Philippines. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 March 2018

Philippines to declare state of calamity at Boracay island

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that he will declare a state of calamity in world-famous Boracay island amid continuing environmental concerns.

Twice named as the best island in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, Boracay has been a popular destination with tourists who are drawn to its white, talcum-powder fine sands and warm, crystalline waters.

In recent years urban and environmental planners have been warning of environmental degradation at the resort which in 2017 posted a record 2,001,974 tourist arrivals.

In February, the president himself labelled Boracay a “cesspool,” describing its waters as “smelly.”

“You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smell of what? Shit,” Duterte said. He then ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to clean up Boracay within six months.

Following the president’s directive, a “mission team” was deployed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to serve notices to establishments initially found to have violated environmental laws.

Members of the team likewise went to check if the establishments are properly connected to the main sewer lines or have their own wastewater treatment facilities, at the same time, identify those directly discharging untreated wastewater into Boracay waters.

Reports indicate that over 60 establishments, including five-star resorts, were found draining their untreated sewage water directly into the sea.

In his speech during the oath-taking of new government officials in Malacanang on Tuesday, the president announced that he was placing Boracay under a state of calamity.

He explained that this action would allow the government to extend assistance to those who are displaced financially.

Interior and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) officer-in-charge Eduardo Ano has been put under orders by Duterte to “put an end” to Boracay’s problem in six months.

The president appealed to the public to work with the government to clean the island.

Meanwhile, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III declared his support for a plan to close some parts of Boracay to tourists from June 1 to July 31.

“We must carefully assess the damage to the local environment and take the necessary steps for the clean-up. The process is more easily done and more effective if there are no tourists around,” Pimentel said.

He added that while he understood the difficulty involved in closing the island for two months, he added: “It will be good in the long run for all stakeholders, including the tourists who are there for the natural beauty of the island.”

He noted that closing tourist destinations to preserve them is nothing new, as Thailand closed Koh Tachai island in May 2016 when record numbers of tourists threatened the natural environment.

Strasbourg suspect: violent criminal on France terror watchlist

Updated 1 min 12 sec ago

Strasbourg suspect: violent criminal on France terror watchlist

STRASBOURG: The 29-year-old man sought by police over a shooting in Strasbourg lived in a small apartment in a ramshackle housing bloc and has convictions in France and several European countries after a life of crime, officials say.
The man, Cherif Chekatt, lived in the Poteries area of Strasbourg about a 20-minute tram ride west of the center of the French city and its Christmas market where the attack struck.
“It’s a building for desperate people. No one wants to live there,” one local, Bemba N’diaye, 37, told an AFP reporter near the nine-story concrete bloc where Chekatt’s name is on a letterbox.
“People there are very isolated,” N’diaye said.
Others said the man was known in the area owing to his criminal record, but he kept a low profile, only venturing downstairs for a coffee and baguette.
“His family has lived around here for a while, but he lived on his own nearby,” Zach, a 22-year-old, said. “He was discreet, not a thug.”
The suspected gunman has been sentenced 27 times, mostly in France where he was born, but also in Germany, Switzerland as well as Luxembourg which are easily reached from Strasbourg.
His crimes range from violence to robbery, but not terrorism.
Chekatt was added to a watchlist of possible extremists while in prison in France in 2015 after he “called for practicing a radical form of religion,” French deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said on Wednesday.
He has since been monitored by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI, which is occupied monitoring a large number of suspected extremists in France.
Some 25,000 people are currently on the “S” extremism watchlist, 9,700 of them for radicalism “linked mainly to extremist terror movements,” according to the interior ministry.
“He is an individual who has unfortunately been known for a very long time for crime,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told French MPs on Wednesday.
“From the age of 10, his behavior was already criminal. He had his first sentence at 13 years old,” Castaner said.
On a photograph released by French authorities the suspect has dark eyes, black hair and a short beard.
Police had tried to detain Chekatt on Tuesday morning in connection with an attempted murder enquiry, but he was not at home, Nunez told France Inter radio on Wednesday.
A grenade, four knives and a rifle were found during a search of his apartment, prosecutors have said.
Alarmed by their find, police began their manhunt for Chekatt.
“Then at 19:47 (18:47 GMT), he appeared... in the heart of Strasbourg and the Christmas market,” Castaner told the French parliament.
German authorities were on the lookout for the fugitive on Wednesday “along the Rhine” river which serves as the border between France and Germany, a spokesman from the Baden-Wuerttemberg region said.
“But at the moment we do not believe that he has crossed into the country,” he added.
According to Germany’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, Chekatt broke into a dentist practice in Mainz, Rhineland Palatinate state, in 2012, making away with cash, stamps and gold used for teeth fillings.
Four years later, he targeted a pharmacy in the Lake Constance town of Engen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, pocketing cash. He served a year behind bars in 2016 before being expelled back to France.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told his country’s parliament that the shooter was involved in a robbery there in 2012, without offering any more details.
Chekatt’s profile is “a familiar composite portrait of today’s extremist,” Anne Giudicelli, Director of the consulting firm Terrorisc, told AFP.
“He has ticked all the boxes of the profiles seen before.”