BORACAY Island, Malay, Aklan — The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will be recommending to the inter-agency Task Force Boracay several milestones that should be attained for government to be able to reopen the popular resort island by August.
In a news conference here, DILG Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Epimaco Densing III said, among the recommendations to fasttrack the reopening of the island, include: the water discharge should fall within environment standards for a succession of 30 days by July; that the sanitary landfill would have zero garbage by end-July; the completion of the Bulabog drainage system by the end of April or May; the 100-percent compliance of violators to the easement regulations; the recovery of three of the five wetlands from illegal structures by the end of July or August; and that the road widening project be 70-percent complete by August.
He said if these goals are achieved, there would likely be a “soft opening of Boracay in three to four months,” adding that these recommendations have yet to be elevated to the Cabinet Secretaries, who comprise Task Force Boracay.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay, consistently named as the “best island in the world” by travel magazines, from April 26 to October 26, 2018, to give way to its rehabilitation to be undertaken by national government agencies.
At the same news conference, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said, unless lawmakers are able to pass legislation to allow current landowners on the island to formally acquire land titles to their properties, the latter still cannot consider their properties as their own based on tax declarations.
But he dispelled notions that Duterte was going to just going to take away the properties of resort owners indiscriminately, and subject these to land reform, expressing even doubts like many, that there were tillable lands and farmers on the island. But the Cabinet official disclosed that the President was open to titling some land “so that the ordinary citizens of Boracay would benefit.”
Roque also confirmed that Duterte would likely proclaim a state of calamity in Boracay within the week.
As Boracay residents, business owners, workers, and the informal sector prepare for the island’s closure on April 26, several government agencies updated tourism stakeholders on their accomplishments and action plans at a workshop conference at the Savoy Hotel here on Tuesday.
This developed as the Philippine National Police (PNP) sought for greater coordination among government agencies to be able to manage the closure of Boracay more smoothly. Cesar Binag, regional director for Police Region 6 (Western Visayas) told the island stakeholders that “we need to harmonize the ID system, otherwise we will have difficulty in implementing the ‘no ID, no entry’ policy.”
He added that the PNP also wants to meet the security guards who will guard the properties of their employers, indicating that the latter will greatly ease the PNP’s security coverage of the island.
Also, the PNP has assigned an additional 138 personnel on the island to function as a crowd dispersal unit, he said.
Stakeholders, however, came away from the working conference still perturbed or worse, confused. In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Jose Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines said: “I came into the working conference with high hopes that we would finally get answers to questions that the stakeholders have been asking since the threat of a closure was first mentioned. The meeting left me disappointed and with more questions than answers. The pressing matters were hardly discussed especially with regard to what will happen to the island’s 35,000 plus workers.”
He added: “Some of the panelists seemed woefully unprepared and even unsure of their answers. The impression left with me was that the lack of a well-thought out plan can possibly blow up in their faces,” even as he recognized that the DILG/PNP and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), which is fast tracking the completion of the drainage and sewage system, were able to present the most comprehensive action plans of all government agencies present.
Tieza, the infrastructure arm of the Department of Tourism, presented a timetable for completion of the island’s drainage system, which could reduce the septage outfall of Bulabog beach. Said beach, where kitesurfers and other water sports enthusiasts usually stay, has a water quality level of 2,400 most probable number (MPN) of Coliform per 100 milliliter, exceeding the standard level of 400 MPN/100 level.
The Department of Labor and Employment, for one, was privately criticized for being unclear in how it was preparing for the closure of the island, as its representative told stakeholders that the agency was still “profiling” the workers on the island. But in its defense, Densing said there was a need to validate the number of workers actually affected by the closure. While Boracay Foundation Inc. says 36,000 workers will likely lose their jobs because of the closure, the DILG believes this could be just about 20,000.