Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed Wednesday that the island of Boracay will be closed for environmental cleanup for six months starting April 26.The popular tourist destination will not receive visitors during that period as all accommodation facilities and attractions will be shuttered.
The Wednesday announcement came after more than a month of speculations over the island’s fate after President Duterte complained about its state in February and called it a “cesspool” due to the lack of a proper sewerage system.
A special unit with officials from several government departments was assembled to review the environmental state of Boracay and advise President Duterte on whether the popular tourist hub should be closed for a cleanup. The unit eventually recommended that Boracay be shuttered for a period of between six months and a year and pointed April 26 as a suitable date for the beginning of the cleaning process.
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The total shutdown is aimed to provide enough time for a cleanup of the island and its surrounding seas. A survey by the President Duterte-appointed unit showed that most of the properties on the island did not have discharge permits and were thus presumably draining effluence directly into the sea surrounding Boracay.
It was also found out that there were business properties that were built without the necessary building permits and were thus operating illegally. President Duterte previously threatened to send military units to dynamite illegal structures.
Boracay is one of the most popular tourist destinations across the Philippine archipelago. Last year, the island welcomed nearly 2 million international visitors, with the largest tourist flows coming from China and South Korea.
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The island is set to be closed just days before Labor Day weekend, a holiday stretch that draws thousands of tourists seeking gateway to the island.
Following President Duterte’s confirmation of the island’s imminent April 26 closure, several airlines serving Boracay announced that they will cancel multiple flights to the island. Cebu Pacific, the largest domestic carrier said that it would cut back 14 daily round-trip flights to Boracay between April 26 and October 25. Philippine Airlines said that it would too reduce the number of flights to the island’s main gateways and would instead add flights to other popular tourist destinations.
Impact on Galaxy’s Casino Plan
While the Philippine government was discussing the potential and now confirmed closure of the island, news broke that Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group and its Philippine partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp. were planning to build a $500-million casino resort on Boracay.
The two companies received a provisional license from PAGCOR, the country’s gambling regulator, late in March. Company representatives have recently said that the island’s closure would not impact negatively construction work.
While developers promised to build a resort that would generate multiple new jobs and additional revenue, the project was not received very well by everyone. Island environmental groups complained that Boracay should not be promoted as a gambling destination and that its existing offering, including its white-sand beaches, nighttime entertainment options, and water attractions, was more than enough to draw tourists.
Galaxy and its local partner need to obtain permits from the Philippine Departments of Tourism (DOT) and of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in order to be able to commence construction work. However, the two departments revealed earlier this week that neither of them had received applications from developers.