THE Department of Tourism (DOT) will be asking the country’s various airlines to reduce their number of flights to Kalibo and Caticlan in an effort to limit the number of tourists going to Boracay Island.
This developed as interagency Task Force Boracay finally determined the carrying capacity of the island, which was presented to President Duterte during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “There is an excess in existing population, non-tourists in the island; there’s an excess in existing hotels and available rooms; and there’s excess in solid waste generated,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. in a press briefing at Malacañang on Wednesday. “There is sufficient water supply; there is, however, insufficient wastewater-treatment facilities.”
He added the Cabinet approved to “maintain the tourism carrying capacity of 19,215 persons per day [and] 6,405 tourist arrivals per day.” There are an estimated 15,000 rooms on Boracay, but so far, only 2,063 rooms in 25 hotels have been accredited for the reopening on October 26.
Roque said other approved recommendations include the “evaluation of the feasibility of utilizing the extra available rooms; promote wetlands utilization for filtering out waste from both soil and water through plant uptake; maximize open spaces for vegetation; minimize point source pollution; IECs [information, education and communication], especially on both solid waste and liquid waste management; minimize coastal erosion; and, establish permanent monitoring facilities in designated areas.”
In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Fatima Romulo Puyat said, “I have been talking with the airlines, I talked with Jimmy Bautista [Philippine Airlines] and Lance Gokongwei [Cebu Pacific]. They said they would reduce the number of flights to Caticlan and Kalibo. The only way you reduce the number of people going to Boracay is to lessen the flights going there, since 98 percent of the visitors go by air.”
For his part, Philippine Airlines (PAL) President Jaime J. Bautista said they will likely reduce flights to Caticlan to once a day each from Manila, Clark and Cebu. “The ones from Clark and Cebu will be using small airplanes,” he added.
Also, PAL is considering suspending its charter services to Kalibo from China, Korea and Taiwan. “The China and Korea charter flights are landing in Kalibo, but if there are no available rooms in Boracay, there is no point in operating these charters,” said Bautista. Prior to Boracay’s closure, PAL had 28 flights per week to Kalibo from China and Korea, and two times per week from Taipei to Kalibo.
During the peak season, PAL had 94 weekly flights servicing Boracay, 52 of which were to Caticlan and 42 to Kalibo from Manila, Cebu and Clark.
While Gokongwei had yet to confirm Romulo Puyat’s statement as of press time, sources in CEB said the airline is “taking [it] into consideration,” as the airline had already reduced its flights to Kalibo and Caticlan, in preparation for the reopening of Boracay. Starting October 28, the carrier has seven flights a day to and from Caticlan from Clark and Manila, while it currently flies six times a week between Manila and Kalibo.
Separate government sources also indicated there were moves to drop Boracay as a cruise destination. Before the island’s closure, the DOT had been aggressively promoting Boracay as a major cruise destination, expecting about 18 ships carrying 50,000 passengers in 2018. But Boracay stakeholders had been long been urging the DOT to halt these cruises because the passengers not only add to the beach congestion, but also the island’s establishments don’t earn from them.
Meanwhile, Romulo Puyat declined to further elaborate on other government measures to restrict the arrival of tourists in Boracay, pending the Task Force Boracay meeting on September 28. “We didn’t talk about the ways during the Cabinet meeting, but we have already thought of some measures that need to be implemented,” she said, at the same time admitting that the “legality of it [restriction on visitors]” still needed to be thoroughly studied.
The right to travel and freedom of movement are enshrined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the Philippines is a signatory.
President Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay for six months starting on April 26, ostensibly to make way for the government’s rehabilitation effort, aimed at restoring the island to its pristine condition. International publications have tagged Boracay as one of the best beaches in the world. A task force headed by the Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu was formed in January to draw up the rehabilitation program. Other members of the task force include the secretaries of interior and tourism.