By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent
A soft opening of Boracay Island is possible by August should six milestones of the rehab plan be met, according to the inter-agency task force that is taking over the tourist destination when its temporary closure begins April 26.
“Number one critical here is, we are proposing that for 30 consecutive days in the month of July, the water discharge should be within Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) standards,” Asst. Sec. Epimaco Densing III of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said at a press briefing last week.
DENR, DILG and the Department of Tourism (DoT) are lead agencies of the task force, which has been expanded to include other relevant government agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Apart from fecal coliform not exceeding 200 Most Probable Number (MPN) per 100ml in the island’s waters, there should be zero garbage openly dumped in the sanitary landfill and the drainage system in Bulabog must have been completed by July. By the end of July or early August, all beachside violations of the 25 plus 5-meter easement rule must have been dismantled already along with the illegal structures on three of the five wetlands targeted for restoration. The final criterion is 70 percent completion of the road widening project on the island’s main road.
“If we hit the 70 percent completion rate of the road widening project to 12 meters including that of the new drainage pipeline, then that can be a signal that we can have a soft opening most probably by August at the earlier,” Densing said.
Starting April 26, the DPWH will upgrade Boracay’s main road, covering three to four kilometers from the jetty port. It will also take care of pipe-laying projects lined up by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority so that the latter can focus on the discharge water drain line to Bulabog.
DSWD and DOLE will be the front liners in providing jobs and financial aid to an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 displaced workers. The government has a standby calamity fund of PHP 2.3 billion, which is on top of the infrastructure costs for road widening and drainage system rehabilitation.
“We talked to the different agencies vis-à-vis the timeframe, and they are in agreement with it. For instance, for the drainage system, the target is to start April – they already started – and to finish it by November. For the Phase 1, which is the rehabilitation of the Bulabog drainage, I think they are already about to finish it by early May. So, Phase 2 will be something that we will have to finish by October,” Densing said.
“The other one is the road expansion program. So, with the road expansion program, DPWH has already given us the signal that they can finish it in six months, assuming there will be no resistance within the island,” he added.
Once Boracay is cleared of tourists, teams composed of the DENR, DILG and the local government unit (LGU) of Malay, Aklan will be inspecting each and every business establishment on the island for compliance with legal requirements such as environmental clearance certificates, wastewater treatment, and business permits from the LGU including the fire safety inspection certificate (FSIC)—another red flag recently raised. Densing said the Bureau of Fire Protection earlier this month discovered that only six out of 110 establishments surveyed possessed an FSIC, which is a prerequisite to obtaining a Mayor’s Permit.
Unlike now when hotels and resorts are not obligated to register with the DoT before operating, those who wish to continue doing so in Boracay will be required to undergo DoT accreditation. Task force officials said some of the establishments will be taking advantage of their downtime by re-training their workforce, especially their frontline staff.
When Boracay reopens, stricter environmental guidelines will be enforced in line with the DENR’s establishment of a 750-hectare critical habitat for threatened species such as flying foxes and fruit bats. The critical habitat zone includes a built-up area where big resorts such as Shangri-La Boracay, Alta Vista de Boracay and Seven Seas Boracay are located. Assuming their permits are in order, establishments within the critical habitat may continue to operate there but must ensure that habitats of the flying foxes and fruit bats are not disturbed. For instance, the guidelines will direct establishments to plant trees that are endemic to the habitat and to minimize noise because fruit bats sleep during the day.
“We are trying to fast-track everything because it is not to the interest of everybody to make this island remain closed for six months. If we (are) going to open this earlier, so much the better. And we are really appealing to everybody to help us. Let’s work hand in hand. If we do this, whatever limitations government has can be covered by those from the private sector.
And if they cover this, whatever we are doing right now specifically the six areas where the milestones can be used (as) a gauge of re-opening the island earlier than six months, then so much the better. We can do this,” Densing said.
In his State of the Environment Address during Earth Day last April 22, DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu said the government’s goal in Boracay is to make it a livable community where international water quality standards are maintained and proper solid waste management is practiced.