THE Supreme Court has been asked to stop the government from proceeding with its six-month closure of Boracay Island, the country’s most popular tourism destination.
In a petition filed through lawyers from the National Union of Peoples´ Lawyers, petitioners Mark Anthony Zabal and Thiting Jacosalem, both workers and residents of Boracay, asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the closure of the island.
In the alternative, the petitioners asked the high court to issue a status ante order to restore all parties to the circumstances before the cessation of the tourism and economic activities in Boracay.
They argued that closure order was arbitrary and in violation not only of their constitutional rights, but the rights of all the people working and living on the island.
“In ordering the closure of Boracay Island to tourists and non-residents, President [Rodrigo] Duterte gravely abused and exceeded his authority under the Constitution,” the petition said.
“He exercised powers that are legislative in nature, in violation of the principle of separation of powers. By issuing the said orders, President Duterte acted without authority under the 1987 Constitution or statutory law,” it said.
The closure of Boracay to all tourists, purportedly for the purpose of rehabilitating the island, will start today, April 26, 2018, and will last for six months.
An inter-agency task force was formed to implement the rehabilitation. Hundreds of heavily-armed police personnel in fatigues have been deployed to Boracay ahead of the scheduled closure.
“We have been earning less and less ever since the government declared that it would close the island,” the petitioners said.
“If Boracay is closed to tourists, we lose our source of income, and we would not be able to feed our families,” they added.
An estimated 36,000 workers engaged in tourism-related occupations will be directly affected as a result of the government’s measure.
Impleaded as respondents in the petition were President Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Department of the Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año.
At the Palace, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Boracay would be closed unless the Court issued a temporary restraining order.
“While the President respects the Court, we see absolutely no merit for any private party to restrain the closure of Boracay to tourists given that SC itself has previously ruled that Boracay is owned primarily by the state,” Roque said in a statement.
The Palace official said the closure is just temporary and the rehabilitation plan would benefit not only the workers and residents but future generations to come.
“We see no reason private persons can allege and prove irreparable injuries, a prerequisite for a TRO, given that their stay on the island is by mere tolerance of the state,” Roque said.
“In any case, the closure is because of the inherent police power of the state to protect the environment in Boracay. Unless a TRO is issued, the planned closure of Boracay to tourists, shall proceed,” he added.
The Palace official said the President will sign an executive order declaring the resort island under the state of calamity to be able to release P2 billion to financially assist affected workers and residents.
A militant lawmaker, meanwhile, accused the government of overkill in deploying 630 personnel composed of police, soldiers, Coast Guard and firemen to provide security during the shutdown.
“The overacting security measure only shows the fake narrative the Duterte government is using to close Boracay and quell the protests of local residents and their supporters who know the real score behind the closure and will be affected by the six-month long closure of the world-class tourist destination,” said Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao.
“Clearly, the government is employing a martial law-like tactic to sow terror on those who oppose the unjust total closure disguised as a clean-up,” he added.
Police preparing to shut down Boracay staged drills in riot gear on Wednesday, startling the laid-back beach community as workers mounted a last-ditch effort to halt the six-month closure.
President Duterte has ordered the holiday destination off-limits to tourists from Thursday, saying the tiny island has become a “cesspool” tainted by dumped sewage.
As part of police drills, officers in full riot gear clashed with bottle-throwing people playing the part of protesters on the white sand beach while concerned residents watched.
“I was alarmed there were so many soldiers and police,” resident Dory Gaitano said. “I thought they’ll be only demolishing establishments with violations. Why are there countless soldiers?”
Boracay was known as the crown jewel of Philippine tourism with its world-famous powdery white sand, but unchecked tourism and environmental degradation made it far from the tropical paradise it was decades ago.
Authorities say some of the hundreds of tourism-related hotels and restaurants use the island’s drainage system to send untreated sewage into its surrounding turquoise waters.
The closure threatens the livelihood of 17,000 hotel, restaurant and other tourism workers, plus about 11,000 construction workers.
The island saw some 2 million visitors last year, pumping roughly $1 billion in revenue into the Philippine economy.
Duterte has said he will release P2 billion to help the workers, but they say they haven’t seen a penny yet.
“My son has epilepsy and I am paying for his treatment. The government is offering a job but I am still waiting: what job and when? I will take any job as long as I have a daily income,” souvenir vendor Jenelyn Besana said.
Restaurants and bars put up signs offering discounts, with most items on the menu already unavailable.
Vendors slashed 50 percent off sunglasses and selfie sticks while tourists scrambled to get hold of Boracay souvenir shirts sold at half price.
“We call it the closure sale. We used to sell key chains in a buy one, get one promo. But now we sell ‘Buy one, get 10’,” said vendor Jenie Dagunan.
“We can’t eat these bracelets, might as well turn them into money.”
The Trade Department vowed to assist affected workers and displaced micro, small and medium entrepreneurs to lessen the impact of the the six-month closure.
Trade Regional Operations Group Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya said the agency has identified initiatives to cushion the impact to workers and entrepreneurs of the island’s imminent shutdown.
“We recognize the importance of Boracay Island to our local entrepreneurs there. However, we would also like to ensure that the island maintain its pristine condition, which is why we have identified programs that will help local entrepreneurs,” Maglaya said.
Post-rehab: More investors flocking
More foreign investors will flock to Boracay once the island has gone through a six-month rehabilitation.
This was the view shared yesterday by Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo during a radio program interview over DZBB who said that businesses in the island will bounce back after the closure.
Teo said a 5-star hotels, world-class villas, and restaurants are expected to be built in Boracay after the rehabilitation, paving the way for the creation of jobs in the tourism sector not only for the locals in the province but also for residents of nearby areas.
Teo at the same time denied that a casino will be built and open in the island while it is being rehabilitated, a move that entails demolition of illegal structures, putting up of drainage system and road widening.
She said queries over the casino issue is left to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. as it is the sole agency that is authorized to give the ‘go signal’ and license to operate a casino and not her department.
Teo added that the foreign investment will come from the countries President Duterte had visited recently, like China and the Southeast Asian countries whom he encouraged to visit and invest in the country.
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