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Philippines to declare state of calamity at Boracay island

An aerial view of Boracay Island in the central Philippines. (Shutterstock)
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.