Philippines to close popular tourist island described as ‘cesspool’ by Duterte

Airline call for recosinderation of abrupt presidential order to close Boracay for six months

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has approved the closure of the country's most famous tourist island, Boracay, for six months starting April 26, paving the way for a major cleanup of what he had described as a "sewer pool". Video: CCTV


A decision by the Philippines to close the holiday hotspot of Boracay, which President Rodrigo Duterte has called a “cesspool”, prompted airlines Thursday to cut back flights to the island, while business groups called for the decision to be reconsidered.

The abrupt presidential order to close Boracay to tourism for six months from April 26th, aimed at rescuing the once idyllic island from ruin, was issued Wednesday.

Cebu Pacific, the dominant domestic carrier, said it cancelled 14 daily round-trip flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, Boracay’s two main gateways, from April 26th to October 25th, while Philippine Airlines said it would scale down services to the airports and add flights to other destinations.

The Philippine tourism minister, Wanda Teo, said on Thursday that businesses and visitors to the crowded 10 sq km (4 sq mile) island would have to make a sacrifice.

“If you close one establishment but open another, tourists will still come. All establishments, whether compliant or not, will be closed,” Ms Teo told ANC news channel. “Everyone must sacrifice here.”

The tourism industry urged a less drastic approach to rehabilitating the island and to delay the planned closure.

Jose Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said businesses were aware of Mr Duterte’s planned cleanup, but hoped for a partial or phased closure, and more time to adjust.

“We are a bit depressed right now in the industry,” he said. “I really feel for the people in Boracay,” he added. “They really need to find ways to be employed, or at least keep their head above water for the next six months.”

Located off the northern tip of the central island of Panay, Boracay’s white sand, lively night scene and abundant water sports attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year, with the largest contingents coming from China and South Korea.

In closing the island to visitors, Mr Duterte, known for his no-nonsense style, was responding to numerous government inspections following his criticism in February of sanitary conditions on the island.

Mr Duterte was furious about sewage problems stemming from inadequate treatment systems and unrestrained development of businesses, which in many cases were operating without permits.

It is not immediately clear what the government plans to do during the closure and what the rehabilitation of the island might entail.

Wastewater management is expected to be the priority, after inspections discovered businesses releasing untreated sewage into the sea.

Boracay is one of 7,300 islands in the archipelago nation and hosts 1,800 businesses, including global hotel chains like Shangri-La and Movenpick, and locally listed companies Megaworld Corp and Manila Water.

Philippine Airlines said it supported the government’s decision.

“We fully support the government’s intention to make Boracay fully safe and environmentally friendly,” said Jaime Bautista, the airline’s president.–Reuters