Palace order out on Boracay as rehabilitation begins

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A SEWAGE pipe is seen along the shore of Bulabog beach on Boracay on April 10. — REUTERS

MALACAÑANG on Thursday issued President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Proclamation No. 475 declaring the “temporary closure of (Boracay) island as a tourist destination.”

The proclamation also declared a state of calamity in the island’s villages of Balabag, Manoc-Manoc, and Yapak.

The order cited pertinent provisions of the Constitution as well as existing laws as basis. It also noted, among other environmental factors affecting the island, “a high concentration of fecal coliform in the Bolabog beaches…due to insufficient sewer lines and illegal discharge of untreated waste water into the beach.”

“Most commercial establishments and residences are not connected to the sewerage infrastructure of Boracay Island, and waste products are not being disposed through the proper sewerage infrastructures in violation of environmental law, rules, and regulations,” the proclamation also read, citing further that only 14 of 51 establishments near Boracay’s shores are compliant with the Clean Water Act of 2004.

“Solid waste within Boracay Island is at a generation rate of 90 to 115 tons per day, while the hauling capacity of the local government is only 30 tons per day,” the proclamation read further.

It also cited beach erosion, the disappearance of wetlands (only four out of nine remaining) and the increase by more than 160% of the daily number of tourists (at 18,082) between 2012 and 2017.

The order also serves to formally activate the interagency task force organized for the island’s rehabilitation.

Stakeholders have petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the government’s move, but the high court’s spokesman, Theodore O. Te, said via text on Thursday when sought for comment, “No TRO.”

Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence T. Go in a statement said, “I welcome the signing of the proclamation declaring a state of calamity in the three barangays on the Island of Boracay and the temporary closure of the entire Boracay Island as a tourist destination. Now, the work of rehabilitating Boracay can begin.”

For his part, Department of Social Welfare and Development Undersecretary Emmanuel A. Leyco, the agency’s officer-in-charge, said the government is expecting about “19,000 registered workers and 17,000 informal workers” to be directly affected by the island’s shutdown.

“We are preparing to help both groups; we are gearing up livelihood programs to adjust to the new environment,” Mr. Leyco added.

The Boracay Foundation, Inc. (BFI), for its part, said in a statement, “We hope that rehabilitation work will be done efficiently to minimize the impact on those affected by the closure. We, however, can only do so much, as our hands are also tied.”

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu in a statement on the first day of the island’s shutdown Thursday said, “We will put its sewage and solid waste systems in place. We will demolish illegal structures — big or small — in the foreshore and protected areas, in the wetlands and forest lands, and even within the road easements.”

“We intend to review the road and transport network, including the use of the jetty ports, motor vehicles and other means of transport to make these conform to the most desirable means to transport people and goods within a small 1,078-hectare island,” he added.

Rehabilitation efforts cover five key areas, namely: drainage and sewerage rehabilitation; management of air quality, disposable lands, forestlands, and solid waste; and biodiversity conservation; wetlands rehabilitation; and geological hazard management.

Mr. Cimatu also said they will cancel environmental permits and close establishments that illegally connected their sewerage lines.

In a press conference yesterday, Mr. Cimatu unveiled a list of locations where they found illegal sewer pipes not connected to the island’ two water concessionaires, Boracay Island Water Company and Boracay Tubi Systems Inc.

This is despite the Environmental Management Bureau’s already issuing notices of violation in February.

“It has been almost two months, but it seems there is a lack of conscience [on the part of these establishments] to act on their own,” Mr. Cimatu said. — Arjay L. Balinbin, with Anna Gabriela A. Mogato and Dane Angelo M. Enerio