By Darlene Casten
Duterte gives Boracay six months to clean up sewage and trash
Caption: Department of Tourism spokesperson Frederick Alegre speaks to a group of foreign media, including representatives from Mabuhay Calgary, in the Philippines last week about the steps that are being taken to clean up Boracay after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shut the island down within six months.
A Calgary travel agent said she does not expect a drop in tourists to Boracay despite President Rodrigo Duterte calling it a cesspool and threatening to shut down the popular island to visitors if a clean up is not done within six months.
In a transcript released by the Philippine government from a speech in Davao February 9, Duterte said during a trip to Boracay the water stank and he saw trash on the beaches.
“But you go into the water, it’s smelly,” Duterte says. “Smell of what? S***.”
An investigation found hotels and restaurants pumping sewage into the water.
Annabelle Bedrejo is a travel agent with Fiesta Travel in Calgary, which specializes in travel to the Philippines.
She says the move to clean up Boracay likely won’t have a major affect on the number of visitors to the island
“People, when they are in the Philippines, they want to go to Boracay,” she says. “Boracay is the number people ask for.”
Bedrejo was in in Boracay a year ago and said she noticed more trash left by tourists, but said the water was clean.
But there has been a change on the island over the years, she says, explaining she visited Boracay before there was even electricity on the island.
“It was a paradise then compared to now,” Bedrejo says. “There are dogs on the beach. Tourists leave garbage on the beach. It is hard for the establishments to control it.”
However, Bedrejo says she doesn’t expect visits to Boracay to slow down much.
The issue of cleanliness in Boracay has been in the news for years, she adds, and has not deterred visitors.
In the first 10 months of 2017, there were almost two million visitors to Boracay.
However, the Philippines government says the problem in Boracay is much larger than trash on the beach.
Mabuhay Calgary publisher Vangie Caoile is on a media tour of the Philippines and, along with other foreign media, she met with Department of Tourism spokesperson Frederick Alegre February 15.
During that meeting Alegre says some restaurants and hotels had connected their sewage lines to the rainwater lines.
“I don’t even want to describe it to you,” Alegre says. “So it went back to the sea.
That is the part where the gliders take off. So we have to do something.”
Some of those illegal sewage lines have already been cemented closed, he said.
There have been water-quality related complaints, Alegre says.
“There have been some public health issues reported prior to this,” he says. “Colioform in the water. Some people getting wounds and not healing. We have issues accidentally ingesting the water when they are swimming and getting sick so we cannot turn a blind eye to the problem.”
There are also issues with infringement on protected areas of the beach, he says.
“You can no more walk the sand,” says Alegre.
A list of 300 Boracay establishments is before congress for review, Alegre says.
Some could be shut down for months while they fix their compliance issues. Local government departments who have handed out permits to some of these establishments are also being scrutinized, Alegre says.
There is a process they are going through to get compliance and have problems fixed in the next six months, he says, but restoring the area will take much longer.
“The six month period of the president is just to determine the extent of the problem,” Alegre says. “To file immediate cases. It will take some years to rehabilitate.”
A new department has been created in western Visayas to monitor compliance in Boracay.
Alegre says there are also areas where coral is turning powdery and sections of beaches may be closed as a result.
He says the government will also be looking at how to educate tourists on keeping Boracay clean.
“When you arrive on the island, don’t leave your trash behind,” Alegre says. “If everyone carries a trash bag so be it…As much as possible don’t leave a mark. Don’t leave your footprint on the island.
Alegre also says he doesn’t expect much impact on the tourism industry to Boracay.
“It’s a simple case of one step backwards, two steps forward,” he says. “You may lose the business for a while, but it is only to ensure the future-proofing of the island.”
In the long run clamping down on pollution will encourage more tourism, Alegre says.
“This act of seriously cleaning up Boracay will attract even more tourists,” Alegre says. “When tourists know that we have a serious and concerted effort to clean up the island then they will come.”