BORACAY Island will not be closed to tourists during its peak season, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday, even as businessmen and residents of the world-famous summer getaway appealed to the government to reconsider its decision to shutter the island by April 26 for a massive cleanup and rehabilitation.
“Proceed to Boracay, especially since it’s [almost] Holy Week. I don’t think any closure will happen during the peak, peak season of Boracay. We are looking at possibly, if the President finally accepts the recommendations, [its] lean season,” Roque said. Malacañang also defended its approval of the construction of a multimillion-dollar casino-resort in the world-class beach retreat, as critics,
including Senator Nancy Binay, questioned the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s release of provisional license to a unit of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group.
Roque said that even after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a rehab of the island paradise due to its worsening water pollution problem, the temporary closure will not affect the planned construction of casinos on Boracay because they still will have to be built.
“But what I do know is there’s a moratorium right now in place for any further improvements in Boracay. So, like I said the last time: Caveat developer! Warning to the developer, they should know that all their development plans hinges on what the President will decide upon the issue of Boracay,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
“Right now, there’s a moratorium on new improvements. So, they can’t build, even if they wanted to today, because of the moratorium,” he added, noting it would take three years to build the resort.
The recommendation for Boracay’s closure, meanwhile, will take at least six months, the spokesman added.
The group Boracay Tourism Stakeholders, however, said in their own press briefing that the move would only result in massive unemployment among the island’s residents and revenue losses for the enterprises currently there.
With at least two million visitors yearly, Boracay brings in P56 billion in annual revenues for the country, they noted.
Instead of a three- or six-month closure, the group proposed to the government to allow them to undertake individual rectification, cleanup and rehab of their respective properties for 60 days from April to May.
It also proposed that only the properties or entities found to have violated environmental and zoning regulations should be closed.
The stakeholders said 36,000 people will be directly affected by the total closure of businesses on Boracay, including those employed at the hotels, resorts, restaurants, dive shops, souvenir shops, tour activity centers, and transport providers. Others on the island work as masseurs, tattoo artists, and vendors by the beach.
“On top of these are the families and dependents of these workers. The impact on individual lives cannot be ignored,” the group said in a statement.
As with other senators, Binay said she is opposed to building the casino on Boracay and reiterated her stand to implement a moratorium on new construction there.
“It would have been prudent if they deferred [the Galaxy casino] because we are rehabilitating Boracay, and one of my questions is, what’s the carrying capacity of the island?” Binay said.
“And then, in spite of the pressing problems in Boracay, we heard there will be an additional facility that the island cannot hold,” she added.
Binay noted that DoubleDragon Properties Corp. is scheduled to build the “biggest” hotel in the country with more than 1,000 rooms in Boracay.
Thus, a one-year total closure as proposed by the Duterte administration “may not be the best solution for the island and its locals.”
“So my position is, instead of a closure, let’s have a moratorium new constructions,” she added.
“A phase-by-phase rehabilitation where government can strictly enforce the law and at the same time implement the needed corrective measures could be the better option for Boracay.”
Senator Cynthia Villar, who has admitted to owning a resort on the island, will call another Senate hearing on Boracay, and that she plans to ask the position of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Tourism on the planned casino construction, Binay said.
Galaxy Entertainment and Filipino partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp. have signed a $500-million agreement for the casino-resort project, with Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo confirming the government had already approved the casino license for the integrated resort.
“They met all the requirements before the President announced the moratorium,” Domingo said.