DESCRIBED by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as a “cesspool” that smelled of “shit”, Boracay island saw the last of its travellers enjoying their holiday on April 26, 2018, before the tourist ban is enforced.
The six-month total closure of the country’s gem of an island purportedly for a massive clean-up came under scrutiny with claims that it violated a handful of things including the constitutional right to travel.
Boracay, with its pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, sees more than a million tourists and an estimated US$772.5 million in revenue every year. But as with all popular tourists spots, it comes with a price.
Excessive tourism has caused some serious environmental damage to the island.
According to a 2015 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Boracay’s coral reef has been seriously degraded and water quality on the island is deteriorating due to the direct discharge of untreated wastewater near the shoreline.
Airline companies such as AirAsia have since suspended all flights to the destination, offering instead other alternatives and service recovery options.
Hotels and resorts on the island have also scrambled to attend to guests with affected bookings. Some have called it the “painful Boracay rehabilitation”, for the island’s hiatus will affect hotels, resorts, restaurants, cafes, vendors, and other businesses.
Currently, thousands of people depend on tourism in Boracay for their livelihood. Despite the protests by groups and individuals who have opposed the closure and scores of netizens questioning the motifs, the government greenlit the shutdown anyway.
Suspicion was stirred when more than 600 task force officers comprising heavily armed police and military, and the coast guard descended on Boracay island, sparking fears of a military takeover.
The New York Times quoted Boracay fishermen’s rights group Pamalakaya Fernando Hicap as saying: “President Duterte never disclosed to the public that his supposed rehabilitation plan includes deployment of police forces in a full battle gear.”
“We can’t see the point of militarising the tourist island but to sow intimidation and curtail civil rights of the residents who stand affected by the six-month closure,” he said.
Rumours that the closure was specifically orchestrated to facilitate the construction of two mammoth casinos were also a cause for concern.
“The project is a joint venture between Macau gaming giant Galaxy Entertainment Group and a unit of listed firm Leisure and Resorts World Corp,” The Manila Times cited Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chair Andrea Domingo as saying.
“The other casino will be at the Boracay Newcoast of property magnate Andrew Tan, in a joint venture with the Malaysian casino conglomerate Genting, which will start operations four months from now,” she added.
Duterte later vehemently denied any suggestion of casinos being built, saying, “There will never be one.”
“You know the billionaires? Are they from the Okada (group)? All of them made a courtesy call before they started on a project. They were of the belief that that island there is okay for anything. And since there are casinos there, they want to build casinos there. I did not allow it,” The Philippines Star quoted the president as saying.
Nevertheless, he didn’t specifically refer to or address the Galaxy Entertainment Group and Genting rumours.
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Meanwhile, Philippines Senator Leila de Lima has questioned the president’s order, saying his administration “failed to present consistent and clear plan of action on how to go about the island’s rehabilitation”.
She has called for a Senate probe into Boracay’s closure, Rappler reported.
The senator filed Senate Resolution No. 715, urging her colleagues “to investigate if the total closure of Boracay is the best policy response to confront the problem besetting the famed island.”
This article originally appeared on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.