Gov’t task force bats for casino-free Boracay

Playing in casinos will not count among the recreational activities tourists can look forward to in the newly reopened Boracay Island.

This developed as the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) led by Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has formally requested the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) to cancel all gaming franchises and provisional licenses issued in Boracay.

In a letter to PAGCOR chair and chief executive officer Andrea Domingo, the BIATF cited the “pronouncement of President Duterte that no casino shall be allowed in Boracay” in seeking for the cancellation of PAGCOR licenses on the island.

“We shall be grateful for your timely cooperation on this matter for the protection of one of our nation’s most treasured islands,” reads the letter signed by BIATF vice chairs Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on behalf of the task force.

Cimatu aired his continuing objection to the reported plan to build a casino complex in Boracay, which was floated even before the island was closed to tourists in April for a six-month rehabilitation.

He said the BIATF would be firm on enforcing Boracay’s daily carrying capacity with preference to “nature-loving tourists” rather than gamblers.

“Now that the island’s waters and beaches are back to their pristine condition, we would rather that true nature lovers come and enjoy them,” he said.

A study commissioned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources showed that Boracay has a carrying capacity of 19,000 tourists per day or about 55,000 people including residents, workers and tourists.

“Let us properly use the island for its real purpose—sun, sea and sand so that what we all worked hard for will not go to waste,” Cimatu pointed out.

Prior to the closure of Boracay on April 26, Cimatu has already voiced his opposition to the planned $500 million hotel and casino project of Galaxy Entertainment Group and its local partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp.

“Boracay already has enough hotel rooms. Adding more and filling these with guests will again lead to more trash and more wastewater,” Cimatu explained. “Then, we’re back to square one.” ### 

Inter-agency task force hopeful Boracay improvements will be sustained long term

As Boracay is all set for its much-awaited reopening on Friday, government agencies in charge of its rehabilitation are hoping the improved environmental condition of the world-famous resort island will be sustained for the long term.

“It is our fervent hope that the people of Boracay have learned their lesson well and that they are now ready to lead efforts to ensure the sustainability of Boracay as a world-class ecotourism destination,” said Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, head of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF).

Boracay will reopen exactly six months after it was closed to tourists to pave the way for much-needed rehabilitation from serious environmental damage, particularly the concerns that its once-crystal-clear waters have been tainted by sewage and garbage.

Cimatu said that Boracay’s environmental sustainability would depend largely on how its residents, stakeholders and tourists will adhere to the guidelines laid down by the BIATF to protect the island from unsustainable tourism practices.

The environment chief strongly believes that more than the significant improvements and innovations done in Boracay, “a change in the behavior of the people—both the locals and tourists—will bring real change to the island.”

Cimatu expressed hope the BIATF has “successfully laid the foundations for a sustainable Boracay” during the six months the island was under rehabilitation.

Last October 15, Cimatu announced that Boracay waters are already fit for swimming based on the standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Prior to reopening, the BIATF has approved a set of guidelines to ensure Boracay’s environment will be sustained and protected from the expected massive influx of local and foreign tourists.

The guidelines include a regulation on tourist arrivals and number of persons allowed to stay in Boracay, in accordance with the island’s carrying capacity.

A study conducted by the DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau and the University of the Philippines-Los Baños revealed that the island’s daily carrying capacity is 54,945—19,215 tourists and 35,730 non-tourists, which refer to residents, migrants and stay-in workers.

Meanwhile, DENR Undersecretary Sherwin Rigor said that among the highlights of the reopening will be the unveiling of the so-called “Boracay icon” and inauguration of the reconstructed main road.

Rigor said the “reopening ceremony” will take place at Cagban Jetty Port in Barangay Manoc-manoc.

“Cagban jetty port is the main gateway to Boracay. It is only fitting that the ceremonies marking the reopening will take place here, as a symbol of the island welcoming visitors once again to enjoy its natural beauty,” he said.

A prominent marker in Cagban port constitutes of the word “Boracay” with a 50-foot vertical garden and backdrop of the “Boracay icon,” a phrase coined by the task force to refer to an image that the island is well known for.

The marker, Rigor said, would be a “fitting symbol showcasing the ‘new’ Boracay that has been made possible through the collaborative efforts of the government and the island’s stakeholders.”

According to the DENR official, the sheer size of the Boracay icon makes it visible as a welcome sign to ferry passengers approaching the mainland.

Another highlight of the opening will be the inauguration of the rehabilitated main road with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to be led by Secretary Mark Villar of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The 4.1-km road stretches from the Cagban port to the Elizalde property in Station 1.

Environmental warriors will also take their oaths as part of the “Kaligkasan” community multipliers group during the ceremony.

The Kaligkasan, a combination of the words “kaligtasan” (safety) and “kalikasan” (nature), will augment government personnel in enforcing environmental laws and regulations on the island.

Along with the island’s rehabilitation is the improvement of Cagban port’s facilities. Among these is the renovation of the jetty itself, as well as the construction of a rotunda where vehicles can drop off passengers purchasing tickets or leaving the island.

A walkway leading to the main road has also been constructed as a separate path for people entering the island. ### 

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