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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Government to lose P20-B tourism income with Boracay closure

A DAY after President Rodrigo Duterte greenlighted the six-month closure of Boracay Island, an inter-agency task force is targeting to cut to four months the length of time needed to rehabilitate the popular island in a bid to minimize losses in potential tourism receipts.

Local Government Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said Thursday, April 5, that the government might lose roughly P20 billion in gross receipts if the closure of the island lasts six months.

"If we will go through the full six months, it could reach around P18 (billion) to P20 billion potential loss in gross receipts. That's why it is not to the interest of everybody to go the full six months. We have to fast track everything," he told Palace reporters.

"The only way to be able to do this is to ask everybody, all the stakeholders, to be part of the whole rehabilitation process," he added.

On Wednesday, April 4, Duterte approved the recommendation of the task force to close the island to tourists for six months, beginning April 26.

The task force - composed of the Environment, Local Government, and Tourism departments - was formed to devise ways to address the environmental problems plaguing Boracay, one of the top global island destinations.

The decision was reached despite the appeal of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) to implement the closure of Boracay in "phases" to minimize its economic impact.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the DTI's proposal was turned down by Duterte because the "entire rehabilitation cannot be done in phases."

Densing said the President was convinced that the six-month closure was necessary to resolve pressing issues concerning public safety, public order, road system, and environmental degradation in Boracay.

Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones said that during the six-month closure, the task force would focus on upgrading the sewer lines, restoring the drainage system, and inspecting illegal structures in the forest lands and wetlands in Boracay.

Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre urged stakeholders to help the government in its goal to restore the Boracay's pristine condition so as to "reduce the time" of doing the major clean-up in the famous destination.

If all concerned parties participate in the rehabilitation efforts, Densing said it was possible that Boracay would once again be open to tourists in four months.

"We have been receiving volunteers outside of Boracay that they want to go into the island and help in the whole rehabilitation process. So if everybody comes into the picture, we can cut the process by at least two months. We may be able to have a soft opening in three to four months. It's possible," Densing said.

Financial aid

Following Duterte's decision to shut down tourism operations in Boracay, the government acknowledged that around 35,000 direct and indirect workers would be affected, Roque said.

Roque said the President was still considering the declaration of a state of calamity in Boracay to extend assistance to the displaced workers.

He said around P2 billion in calamity funds would be allocated for those who will lose their jobs because of the temporary closure.

The Palace official, however, stressed that Duterte had made a strong stance that establishment owners would not get any financial aid from the government.

"The amount mentioned is P2 billion for the displaced workers," he said.

"There will be a declaration of a state of calamity but the President was insistent that the funds that will be spent will go only to the workers who will be displaced. He will not let any resort owners benefit from any sort of a calamity fund," Roque added.

Charges vs local execs

Meanwhile, the government is eyeing to file by April 14 administrative charges against local officials in Boracay for allowing the island's environmental degradation.

In February, the President blamed the local officials in Boracay for the resort owners' alleged defiance of environmental rules and regulations.

Densing said the government is mulling to file administrative cases against local officials responsible for the environmental problems in Boracay on or before April 14. He, however, refused to provide further details.

"Standard is we have to investigate all local officials who are managing the island -- that is Boracay. So most probably, in detail, we'll just make the necessary announcement when we file on or before April 14," he said.

"We'll finish now our evidence gathering. We're finishing our case build-up activity. Right now, our lawyers are drafting potential administrative case. Most probable, the best way is just to wait until we file. The target date is on or before April 14," Densing added. (SunStar Philippines)
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