When an island becomes an income-generating tourist spot and has drawn millions of people to its powder-white sand beaches and coral reefs, it is hard to imagine that it will suddenly come to an end – at least temporarily.
I have been to Boracay and the place never fails to give me a mix of emotions. On one hand, I love that it has been a haven for travelers looking to still gain some normalcy in their routine (or nightlife) by shopping and hanging out at bars and restaurants like they are actually in a city and not on a secluded island. But of course, this comes at a cost, hence the temporary closure.
As news reports have said, the rapid development and pollution that threatened its idyllic shores have led to the closure order to tourists for six months. President Rodrigo Duterte has said that inadequate sewage treatment Boracay has turned its beaches into a “cesspool.”
While I am in favor of cleaning the once-virgin island that boasts of pristine clear waters and warm sands, I think this decision to close it temporarily will threaten the livelihood of thousands of people. Most of the roughly 40,000 residents of the four-square-mile island are dependent on tourism.
Ms. Graf, an operator on the western side of the island says, “We want the government to help us. But closing the island is another matter altogether. We don’t want that.”
“Closure means the end of jobs,” she said, asking how local workers were “going to eat in the next six months.” She predicted that it would have ripple effects across the entire Philippine economy.
“You close us down, and we will likely not recover from it,” she added. “Tourism in Asia is very competitive.”
The Boracay’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry also asked Mr. Duterte to reconsider, arguing that not all businesses are violators, and that those found to be polluting should instead be cut off from the water supply.
There are mixed reactions from the residents. Some understand the logic and thought it would be worth it in the long run.
I remember back in 2010, the New York Times described Boracay as being known for its laid-back party culture and Asia’s next tourism hot spot. Since then it has landed on the covers and “best” lists of travel magazines. Foreigners, most of them Chinese or South Korean, crowd its beaches and shops, and local officials say the island drew two million visitors last year.
The race for tourist dollars fueled rapid development. Bamboo huts and modest, wood-framed inns gave way to modern hotels, mall outlets and American chains like Starbucks, KFC and McDonald’s, and Caticlan Airport recently expanded to handle the flow of tourists. The boom brought jobs and money, but it also brought trash and overtaxed the island’s water and garbage disposal systems and, crucially, its sewers and storm drains.
This is the reality of having a commercialized vacation spot. We reap what we sow and now ‘payback’ has followed us to this day. It’s hard to say goodbye to Boracay, but the situation has left us no other choice. I just hope that the government is sincere in this project. Rumor has it that they signed an agreement with Galaxy Entertainment, a Macau-based casino operator, and a Philippine partner to begin construction next year on a $500 million beachfront casino that would add to the burdens on the island’s infrastructure.
However, a local newspaper reported that the new casino would need to secure an environmental clearance certificate from the agency before opening. Besides, that would actually defeat the purpose of having the island cleaned only to open up a bigger establishment that will eventually – or swiftly turn the place into an even bigger cesspool.
Whatever the government is planning (or hiding), I feel it is fitting that I write my goodbye piece to this marvelous island that has brought pride and economic benefits to our countrymen. Six months may seem like a short time to recuperate from the damage that commercialism has caused this paradise but I am keeping my fingers crossed.
So long, ‘Bora’, may you be as beautiful, if not more glorious than you have ever been.
Monet Lu is a Marikina-born, award-winning celebrity beauty stylist with his own chain of Monet Salon salons across Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada. Ultimately, Monet is known as an all-around artiste who produces sold-out fashion and awards shows as well as unforgettable marketing campaigns. Monet is also the founder of the revolutionary all-natural beauty products such as Enlighten, your solution to discoloration. To contact Monet, please visit www.monetsalon.com or email him at [email protected].