Senators support Boracay rehab, urge livelihood for affected workers

MANILA With the impending six-month closure of Boracay Island for tourists, several senators have expressed support for the move but urged the government to provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the 36,000 affected workers.

Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sonny Angara, and Ralph Recto made the concerted call Thursday, calling on the government to consider allowing compliant businesses to open earlier than the culmination of the six-month closure order.

This developed after the Palace announced Wednesday that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has approved the total closure of Boracay for six months, beginning April 26 to give way to its rehabilitation.

In an interview, Gatchalian said he is supportive of the order as less distraction and less obstruction from tourists would hasten the rehabilitation of the island.

He, however, said the government should come up with a strategy that would immediately provide temporary work for those who will be displaced.

Importante ngayon (What is important now) is for the Department of Labor and Employment to come up with a strategy para hindi magkaroon ng (to prevent) displacement dun sa (of the) 36,000 na employees sa (employees in) Boracay, Gatchalian said.

Based on data from the Boracay Foundation, some 19,000 people work in the formal sector, such as in hotels, resorts, restaurants, dive shops, souvenir shops, tour activity centers, and transport providers while, another 17,000 work in the informal sector as massage therapists, tattoo artists, and vendors by the beach.

Gatchalian pointed out that these displaced workers could be included in the cash-for-work program, which is the most viable and fastest program to implement.

He added that small businesses should also be allowed to operate to provide food to the workers involved in the rehabilitation.

Iyong ibang mga nagtra-trabaho dun puwede nilang gamitin sa construction dahil maraming construction na gagawin. Yung mga maliliiit na negosyo dun puwedeng mag-operate at dun kakain mga nagtra-trabaho (Others who are working there could be tapped to help in construction. Small businesses can concentrate on selling food to these workers), he said.

Gatchalian also expressed hope that the closure would not take the entire six months as it would adversely affect the whole tourism industry, including the airlines and the ferries that bring tourists in and out of Boracay.

He said he is for a segmented opening of the island resort once rehabilitation starts.

Illegal structures could be demolished in as little as two weeks. Then we can partially open the island. We don't have to wait for the entire infrastructure to finish. Puwede rin namang buksan ng segment-by-segment para maka-operate na yung island (We can also open it segment by segment so the island can already operate), Gatchalian said.

In the meantime, Ejercito also expressed support for the planned closure, but called on the President to consider moving the effectivity date of the closure to the off season.

In principle, I fully support the decision of the President to close Boracay for six months in order to allow the world famous tourist destination to recuperate from the environmental stress it has suffered over the years. I have stated in the past that we need to allow Boracay to breathe and at the same time allow us to rethink our policies in order to ensure the sustainability of tourism in that area, he said in a statement.

However, I hope President Duterte would reconsider the effectivity of the order. My proposal is to close Boracay this coming June, which is considered as 'off season' in order to minimize the disruption to the bookings and reservations already made by tourists, Ejercito said adding that the government should provide alternative livelihood for those who will be temporarily displaced.

Ejercito also called on the departments of environment, tourism, and interior to consider the immediate closure of erring establishments while allowing compliant establishments to operate until the six-month closure order.

Let us support this decision which in the long run will be beneficial not only to the residents of Boracay and the tourism industry but also our future generations, Ejercito said.

In a separate statement, Angara also expressed support for the planned closure.

"Tiyak na ang rehabilitasyon ng Boracay ay magiging daan upang mas lumobo ang turismo sa bansa na siyang lilikha ng dagdag trabaho at magpapalago pa sa ekonomiya ng bansa (For sure, Boracay's rehabilitation would pave the way to further promote tourism in the country, which would generate jobs and boost the country's economy)," Angara said.

But like Gatchalian and Ejercito, Angara urged authorities to ensure that affected workers gain access to the government's employment assistance program.

"Libu-libong pamilya ngayon ang nangangamba kung saan sila hahanap ng pagkakakitaan sa loob ng kalahating taon. Dapat ay aktibo ang local government unit at ang DOLE sa pagbibigay ng tulong sa mga maaapektuhang manggagawa (Thousands of families are dreading where to get their livelihood in the next six months. The local government unit and the DOLE should be active in giving assistance to affected workers)," he said, citing several government programs that can be harnessed for the purpose.

The DOLE's Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers or TUPAD Program should prioritize affected Boracay workers, Angara said.

The TUPAD program provides emergency employment and free skills training for workers who were laid off or terminated as a result of closure of an establishment and for self-employed individuals who have lost their livelihood.

On the other hand, Recto called on government to attach a "performance target" to the six-month closure of Boracay "so there will be measurable outcome" of the island's mandatory shutdown.

He said such a master plan is needed so that there will be a before and after comparison table", as well as to determine the funds required in Boracay's rehabilitation. He warned that without a performance target, there would be "a disaster if half of Boracay's six-month forced vacation would be spent on the government's favorite pastime: planning and visioning".

He also proposed that "environmental, building code violation and health fines" from erring resorts be imposed "so the collections can finance part of the rehabilitation or can be used for emergency financial assistance to affected workers".

Source: Philippine News Agency