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Groups Stage Vehicle Caravan to Protest against Boracay Closure

Opponents of the planned closure of the Philippine island of Boracay staged a vehicle caravan on Thursday to protest the move, local news outlet Inquirer reports.

Around 50 vehicles covered the 71-kilometer distance between Kalibo, the capital of the Aklan province, and Barangay Caticlan in the Malay town to express their discontent with the popular tourism hub’s closure starting April 26. The caravan was organized and led by the #NoToBoracayClosure! #DefendLivelihood! #NoToCasino! movement. The participating vehicles left Kalibo at 8 am local time and reached Malay at noon.

They said that they would have made it to their end point earlier, if they had not been stopped by armed police officers at five checkpoints. Here it is important to note that Barangay Caticlan is the jump off point to the island of Boracay.

The protest was joined by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. Talking with media, the legislator said that the caravan was part of a series of initiatives criticizing the island’s pending closure without any apparent consideration of the impact the move would have on residents’ welfare and local businesses.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered earlier this month that Boracay, a popular tourism destination annually welcoming 2 million visitors, be closed for a six-month period starting April 26. An environmental cleanup will be conducted during that time.

President Duterte’s decision was announced shortly after an environmental review of the island found that a number of businesses were discharging sewage into the sea and multiple buildings were raised without the necessary permission. Following the publication of the review’s findings, President Duterte called the island a “cesspool” and threatened to send the Marines to dynamite all illegal structures.

No Public Consultation on the Closure

The announcement that the island would be shuttered unleashed a wave of negative comments from residents and businesses operating there. No tourists will be admitted to Boracay during the closure period, which practically means that local tourism stakeholders will have to close their businesses.

Residents and business organizations have complained that the move would cost them multiple jobs and revenue.

Rep. Zarate pointed out earlier today that opponents did not rally against the planned cleanup, but rather against the way it will be conducted. According to the politician, the actions of President Duterte and the departments responsible for the cleanup were “very arbitrary”. Rep. Zarate has recently submitted a House resolution urging a probe into the pending closure of Boracay and arguing that the island’s rehabilitation should be based on scientific facts and not “a mere say so by MalacaƱang”.

Opponents of the closure have also raised concerns that there was no actual rehabilitation plan and no plans regarding the relocation and livelihood of those who would be affected by the move.

Residents of the island and environmental groups have also recently opposed the plan for the construction of a $500-million casino resort by Macau-based casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group and its Philippine partner Leisure & Resorts World Corporation (LRWC). The two companies received a provisional license by PAGCOR, the country’s gambling regulator, back in March.

According to conflicting reports from the past several days, Galaxy and its local partner might have or have not scrapped their Boracay plan and might be looking for a new site for a project of a similar scale. A Department of Tourism official said earlier this week that Galaxy has informed the agency that it would no longer pursue its Boracay scheme. However, LRWC denied on Wednesday that the multi-million plan has been nixed.

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