THE tourism department said the rehabilitation of Boracay is expected to be complete by December 2019 and that major roads will be ready more than a month before the resort island reopens to visitors.
Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said during a senate hearing on Thursday that “by Oct. 26, we only have the major roads built” and added that full rehabilitation is expected “maybe by December 2019.”
Oct. 26 marks the end of the six-month period during which the island was closed to visitors, to facilitate an environmental rehabilitation.
Ms. Romulo-Puyat called the reopening of the island to visitors a “soft opening” at the end of “phase one” of the rehabilitation, during which visitor limits set by the island’s estimated carrying capacity will be observed.
She said the six-month shutdown was ultimately not enough to complete the rehabilitation, which included upgrades to the water treatment and sewage system to prevent wastewater from emptying out into the sea.
“You cannot rehabilitate an island in six months so it’s only a soft opening (on Oct. 26),” she said.
The second phase of its rehabilitation will start in April 2019, with a third phase to start by December 2019.
In the second phase, Ms. Romulo-Puyat said the focus will be on projects to be carried out by other departments such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
“That’s for the DPWH. Hopefully the rains aren’t continuous because the rains are pouring now (DPWH) are hoping to finish by April 2019 but then again it’s weather permitting,” Ms. Romulo-Puyat said.
The third phase, Ms. Romulo-Puyat, involves sewer and drainage works. “With regard to TIEZA (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority), the sewerage is expected to be completed in December of 2019. We’ve been given P1.1 billion for the whole drainage system.”
The Department of Tourism (DoT) has sought the assistance of airlines and Local Government Units (LGUs) in limiting flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, the two gateways serving Boracay.
She said the carrying capacity of the island is around 19,000 tourists, of which 98% travel to the island by air.
“PAL (Philippine Airlines) has already told us that they will limit their flights to one a day,” she said.
The DoT also plans to relocate 17,000 workers on the island in order to allow more tourists within carrying capacity limits. The island is home to 55,000 residents, which may involve building worker housing on Panay.
“The recommendation is for the private sector actually to invest in the living quarters of their workers outside of Boracay,” TIEZA Chief Operating Officer Pocholo Joselito D. Paragas during the hearing.
Ms. Romulo-Puyat said that despite the closure of Boracay, tourist arrivals overall still grew and are expected to rise further once the island opens its doors.
“In June, tourist arrivals increased by 11.35% despite the closure of Boracay. In July, tourist arrivals increased by 5.8%, and if you look at January to July figures, they increased by 9.7%,” she said.
“With the opening of Boracay, we’re expecting this to increase,” she added.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and a former Tourism Secretary, told reporters that after Boracay, he may propose measures to rehabilitate Baguio.
“Baguio now has to be the second one to be rehabilitated,” he said.