MANILA - The task of rehabilitating Boracay is so massive that 6 months may not be enough time to do it, a tourism official said Thursday.
The government is now gearing up for the rehabilitation of Boracay island, famous for its beaches and powdery white sand, after President Rodrigo Duterte approved a proposal to close down the island to tourists for 6 months beginning April 26.
“It will take longer than six months to rehabilitate and sustain and save Boracay. But this is a good start because the major works that have to be done have to be done unhampered, without the presence of too many people on the island,” said Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre.
Alegre said, while he believes a 6-month closure is not enough for the clean-up, the President has ordered that all rehabilitation works be done within this period.
Duterte has described Boracay as a “cesspool,” citing the island’s faulty sewerage system where a lot of wastewater is dumped into the open sea.
Among the activities to be done during the 6-month rehabilitation phase is the audit of the island’s drainage and sewage lines and the construction of more drainage systems and sewage treatment plants, said Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing.
“The audit of this is because there’s a lot of sewage, illegal connections on the drainage, and this is the reason why there are a lot of wastewater discharge in the drainage when in fact it is supposed to be clean water,” Densing said in a Palace press briefing.
Another priority during the 6-month cleanup is the clearing of the shoreline of structures that violate the 30-meter easement rule. He said some 190 establishments were found to have violated this rule.
“Over the weekend, we got a report that White Beach is now such a pleasure to walk because there are a lot of establishments that have self-demolished. But we are waiting for the others to do it,” Alegre said.
Structures built on top of reclaimed wetland will also be demolished, Alegre said.
“The demolition now of the structures built over wetland and forest land will happen… Six months is really not enough but at least, there are big-ticket items that can be done within the first 6 months,” he said.
According to Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones, Boracay’s old map provided by the state mapping agency show that Boracay has nine wetlands, but only three of these remain untouched.
“Normally, sa old map natin, mayroon tayong nine wetlands. But noong in-overlay namin iyong existing na mapa natin, tatlo na lang ang nakikita natin doon. So, may mga iba na-reclaim na, iyong mga iba ay natabunan na ng mga ibang buildings. So ito iyong tinututukan natin na kasama doon sa mga six months na duration natin na ia-address natin,” Leones said.
Leones said wetlands are important features of the island since these catch rain. He believes that the reclamation made over wetlands are behind the flooding in the island during the rainy season.
Densing said the government will also conduct a validation of the compliance of Boracay establishments with environmental laws.
“With regard to the validation, that was the latest recommendation, we did it only just yesterday. Because we found out that these establishments were saying ‘we are compliant’ but end up to be non-compliant at all,” Densing said.
According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Duterte ordered to identify which resorts and establishments are complying with environmental laws and other rules and regulations.
“Although he (Duterte) did not commit anything as far as the complying resort owners are concerned, he has promised that the validation will be done quickly, and he will see right away what can be done for those who have been validated to be complying with environmental laws,” Roque said.
“He will then decide after the validation what to do with the resort owners that will be found to be fully compliant with existing rules and regulations.”
Meanwhile, the tourism department is calling on the public to join a massive clean-up before the April 26 closure of the island to tourists.
“In Bali, they had 20,000 people that came for one day. We intend to pass the 20,000 mark,” Alegre said.