BORACAY ISLAND - Jonnel Tamayo ferried the last batch of tourists on his tricycle and said goodbye to a salary that rivals a Manila executive, as the Philippines on Thursday shut down its most popular tourist island to rid its waters of human waste.
Tearful resort workers served grilled seafood to tourists, some singing the 90's alternative rock anthem "Closing Time," as the island counted down to the start of the six-month closure Wednesday night.
Tamayo said he might come home to nearby Romblon Island. He said the P300 per day he would earn helping in the cleanup couldn't compare to his P1,200 daily earnings as a tricycle driver, which could quadruple during peak seasons.
"Bahala na ano trabahong makita ko sa Romblon," Tamayo told ABS-CBN News. "Sayang, ang laki pa naman ng kita ko ngayon kasi peak season."
(Who knows what job I'll find in Romblon. It's a pity, I would have earned a lot because it's the peak season.)
Some 36,000 hotel and resort staff, masseurs, vendors and tattoo artists could be displaced by the shutdown, according to industry groups.
The government has set aside P2.5 billion to give temporary work to those who will be affected, said Tourism Sec. Wanda Teo.
The government would hire displaced laborers as cleaners and construction workers via cash for work programs amounting to P2.5 billion, Teo said.
The cleanup began ahead of the Labor Day holiday, which in recent years saw Manila dwellers descend on Boracay to turn it into a party island.
The government will spend P1.1-billion to build a sewage and waste water facility and P29 million to restore forests and wetlands. Roads will also be widened, officials said.
Officials moved to clean up the island after President Rodrigo Duterte in February flagged pollution in the island, likening its effects to a "cesspool."
Shortly after sunrise on Thursday, the coast guard surrounded portions of the island with buoys to mark restricted areas. Some 600 security personnel will guard the island during the cleanup.
The 4-kilometer stretch of Boracay's White Beach was also free from boat sails, vendors and early morning swimmers.
Don, a 31-year-old waiter at a hotel famed for its four-cheese pizza said he would be temporarily reassigned to Palawan Island.
But he hopes Boracay will bounce back. Teo had floated the idea of the Philippines hosting the Miss Universe pageant to coincide with the island's reopening.
"Sana pag balik namin dito, mas okay na, mas malinis na, marami na 'uling turista," he said.
(My hope is that when we come back, things will be okay. It will be cleaner and with more tourists.)