By Genalyn Kabiling
In a bid to protect public health and prevent further environmental degradation of Boracay, President Duterte has issued a proclamation declaring a state of calamity in the island and ordering its temporary closure as a tourist destination.
Proclamation No. 475, covering three barangays, namely Manoc-Manoc, Balabag and Yapak in the municipality of Malay, Aklan, mobilizes concerned government agencies, including the police and military, to implement the island closure and facilitate the rehabilitation works.
The calamity declaration, signed by the President on the first day of the six-month shutdown of Boracay, also allows authorities to impose price control on basic goods, use of funds for relief and rehabilitation efforts, among others.
“The continuous rise of tourist arrivals, the insufficient sewer and waste management system, and environmental violations of establishments aggravate the environmental degradation and destroy the ecological balance of the Island of Boracay, resulting in major damage to property and natural resources, as well as the disruption of the normal way of life of the people therein,” the four-page proclamation read.
“It is necessary to implement urgent measures to address the abovementioned human-induced hazards, to protect and promote the health and well-being of its residents, workers, and tourists, and to rehabilitate the Island in order to ensure the sustainability of the area and prevent further degradation of its rich ecosystem,” it added.
Under the proclamation that identified Boracay as state-owned except for lands covered by valid titles, the closure of the island tourists will commence on April 26 and end on October 25.
The state of calamity in the island will also remain in effect until lifted by the President “notwithstanding the lapse of the six-month closure period,” the proclamation read.
The President has also directed concerned government agencies to take “remedial measures” during the state of calamity such as “control of prices of basic goods and commodities for the affected areas.”
Other remedial measures are employment of negotiated procurement and use of appropriate funds, including the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, for the relief and rehabilitation efforts in Boracay.
“All departments and other concerned government agencies are also hereby directed to coordinate with, and provide or augment the basic services and facilities of affected local government units, if necessary,” the order read.
In the same proclamation, the President ordered government agencies and affected local government units to implement and execute the closure and rehabilitation n works in accordance with pertinent operational plans, including the Boracay Action Plan.
The Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and other law enforcement agencies with the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have also been directed by the President “to act with restraint and within the bounds of the law” in the implementation of the island closure and ensuring peace and order in the area.
The municipality of Malay, Aklan has also been directed to prevent the entry of tourists to the island until such time the closure order has been lifted by the President.
“All tourists, residents and establishment owners in the area are also urged to act within the bounds of the law and to comply with the directives herein provided for the rehabilitation and restoration of the ecological balance of the Island which will be for the benefit of all concerned,” the proclamation read.
The proclamation also cited several results of the government investigation on Boracay’s environmental woes, including the high decal coliform presence in Bolabog beaches, as well as poor sewerage and solid waste systems.
Among the probe results were:
- Most commercial establishments and residences are reportedly not connected to the sewage infrastructure of Boracay island while waste products are not disposed properly in violation of the environmental laws.
- Only 14 out of 51 establishments near the shores of Boracay are compliant with the country’s Clean Water Act.
- The natural habitats of Puka shells, nesting grounds of marine turtles and grounds of flying foxes or fruit bats have also been damaged and destroyed.
- Only four out of nine wetlands of Boracay remain due to illegal encroachment of structures. At least 937 illegal structures were built on forestlands and wetlands, while 102 illegal structures are built on areas classified as easements.
Earlier, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go announced the President’s signing of the proclamation on Boracay.
“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,” Go said in a statement.
“Naririyan po ang iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno para mas mapadali at mas mapabuti ang gawaing ito. Makakaasa rin po ang lahat ng patuloy na suporta at ayuda mula sa aking opisina [Various government agencies are there to hasten the rehabilitation. You can also expect the continued support from my office],” he said.
The Palace official also called for the “utmost understanding” of the residents and business owners in Boracay amid the temporary shutdown of the island.
“It is my hope that you will cooperate with the government as we undertake efforts to make the Island of Boracay a more beautiful and sustainable tourist destination,” he said.
Duterte, who has described Boracay as a cesspool, earlier approved the recommendation of an inter-agency task force to close the island to address its environmental problems. The task force is composed of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Tourism, and Department of Interior and Local Government.
Earlier, Malacanang said the closure of Boracay to tourists would push through unless the Supreme Court issues a temporary restraining order.
A petition was recently filed by workers from Boracay asking the high tribunal to stop the closure of the island.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace respects the rights of individuals to sue but is confident that such petition will not be given merit by the court.
“An earlier Supreme Court ruling had already recognized that bulk of Boracay except for a private title issued to Tirol family belongs to the state and an indispensable element of a petition for injunction or a prayer for TRO is there must be irreparable injuries,” he said.
“We do not see how individuals who cannot claim ownership over Boracay can suffer any irreparable injury that would warrant the issuance of a temporary restraining order or a permanent injunction. And that is why unless restrained, the closure of Boracay to all tourists will proceed as planned,” he added.