MANILA -- Environment chief Roy Cimatu denied allegations that the impending closure of Boracay aims to pave the way for the construction of a casino in the island.
"There is no basis for that," Cimatu said, stressing that the government is closing the famous tourist spot beginning April 26 to hasten its cleanup and rehabilitation to stop further environmental degradation in the area.
Water pollution, discharge of untreated wastewater into the environment, and encroaching in wetlands and forestland are among Boracay's environmental problems, he noted.
In March, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) issued a provisional gaming license for a planned casino project in Boracay by listed local firm Leisure and Resorts World Corp., in partnership with Hongkong-based Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group.
Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo reportedly said the license's issuance had nothing to do with the looming closure of Boracay.
Reports said Senator Antonio Trillanes IV doubts the real motive for Boracay's closure, suspecting the shutdown is aimed at enabling the casino proponents to bring construction materials for the project to the island.
In February, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced Cimatu's directive to suspend the issuance of environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) for proposed projects in Boracay.
The suspension aims to prevent the construction of new buildings in the island.
The ECC is among the government requirements for projects with potential environmental risks or impact.
Cimatu said the DENR has not received any application for ECC of the planned casino project in Boracay.
The project could not push through without the corresponding ECC, he said.
He said his department would not issue an ECC once the agency's assessment shows Boracay's carrying capacity (carcap) would be exceeded if the project pushes through.
The DENR is in the process of determining the appropriate carcap for Boracay, Cimatu said.
"That carcap will form the basis for our ECCs there," he said in a media briefing in Metro Manila on Friday.
Experts said carcap, a possible growth management tool for achieving desired conditions,
indicates the extent of what an area can support without depleting its resources for present and future generations.
Authorities concerned target setting and enforcing the carcap for Boracay as soon as possible to help balance development and conservation in the island.
Earlier, Cimatu said his department would continue its campaign against environmental violations in Boracay even after the island's six-month closure.
"Much needs to be done," he said, adding that more government agencies need to join the team tasked to implement Boracay's rehabilitation to address the locals' socio-economic needs, such as unemployment, during the closure.
"We're aware of the need to balance environmental and socio-economic requirements as we undertake the closure. That is why we're proposing the expansion of the task force," he said.
The DENR, Department of Tourism, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) comprise the task force.
Cimatu said the agencies are proposing the expansion of the task force to include the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the departments of labor, social work, energy, transportation, public works, and even health.
While acknowledging the closure's temporary impact on tourism in Boracay, the tourism department believes the rehabilitation would result in a much better Boracay.
"It's a temporary setback only," Tourism Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre said earlier.
DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III was also not discounting the possibility of a shorter closure period for the world-famous Philippine tourist spot if only everyone would cooperate.
"We can have a soft opening of Boracay in three to four months," he told media on Friday. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency