by Our Foreign Staff, The Telegraph, April 6, 2018
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the closure of the country's most famous tourist island, Boracay, paving the way for a major cleanup of what he had described as a "cesspool".
Boracay, on the northern tip of central Panay island, is a top destination for local and foreign tourists and its sugary white sand, lively night scene and abundant water sports attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year.
The island earns revenue from luxury hotels such as Shangri-La's five-star Boracay Resort & Spa and beachside restaurants and also employs thousands of local residents.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced Duterte's decision on Twitter, saying it would be closed for six months from April 26. He gave no more details.
Duterte, whose leadership style has been criticised as dictatorial, has castigated the local government and residents for "overzealous" development and permitting beachfront building with inadequate sewage and water treatment facilities.
Many businesses on the island have been releasing wastewater directly into the sea, violating rules on wastewater management, according to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra described the discussion about Boracay's temporary closure during a cabinet meeting late on Wednesday as "exhaustive" and said affected companies would receive financial assistance.
They also discussed ways to help about 17,000 workers who may be displaced, tourism undersecretary Frederick Alegre said on Thursday.
"This is not about profit, it's about the political will to deal with years of neglect of the environment," Mr Alegre said. "We need to act swiftly to save the island and avert its further deterioration."
The closure, which is shorter than the one-year shutdown recommended by the environment ministry, comes just a few weeks after the government gave Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd permission to build a $500 million casino and resort in Boracay.
Philippine Airlines said it would scale down its services to Caticlan and Kalibo airports, the gateways to Boracay, for six months from April following the government's decision.
It will expand flights to other tourist and provincial destinations in the Philippines, it said in a statement.
Boracay is one of a growing number of the globe’s most stunning beaches that face temporary closure this summer as their ecosystems struggle to cope with the devastating impact of unfettered tourism.
Thailand's Maya Bay, which rose to fame when it featured in the 1999 Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, will be closed to the public for four months from June, to allow its battered coral reefs and sea life to recover.