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Is Boracay's Shutdown Necessary?

What was once a vacation hotspot for travelers in southeast Asia has been ordered to undergo a temporary six month shut down. This will definitely affect tourism within the area, but more so it will cause lots of people who depended on the tourism as a livelihood. Normally travelers from first world country’s may not even consider the ramifications of a country’s closure on the local economy. I booked this trip a month ago without prior knowledge of the political situation. That’s totally on me and I have used this time to educate myself and hopefully you can be aware as well.

A quick google search on the history of the Philippines will show how it has struggled in gaining its independence. The Philippines has been inhabited by people for the past 67,000 years. Religion and traditions were formed through the natives and influenced through hinduism, islam, and eventually christianity with the arrival of the Spanish colonial rule.

The United States played a strange role in prolonging and transitioning Philippine independence from Spain, Japan, as well as themselves during colonization, WWII, and the aftermath respectively. With their newfound independence in 1946, the Philippines had a shaky political history with assassination and changes in political powers. Through the creation of Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, economic growth and stability has slowly came to be one of the best countries to invest in 2018, despite it being a gamble due to the unpredictability of natural elements, or in this case the neglectful use of Boracay for profit.

Walking along each side of the island will lead you towards water sports, resorts, bars, and restaurants. All of these have popped up along the coasts of Boracay due to the rise in investments and tourism. In a financial sense, Boracay’s closure will only affect 0.1% of the country’s GDP. While the validity of this statement is unclear because no figures have been provided, while statistics are present for the opposing argument. According to multimedia reporter Chrisee Dela Paz from Rappler, over 36,000 jobs and over 56 billion pesos are at stake for the island’s closure. As I have mentioned above, Dela Paz goes on to explain that these workers are not what most would normally think of when including them on the island. These workers will be a mixture of hospitality, restaurant, transportation, tourism, entertainment and many other industries. Dela Paz sites that from January 2017 to September 2017, 56 billion pesos was generated from tourism alone.

While this is not a huge dent when looking at the percentage, the sheer number of people who are losing their jobs is not something to overlook. This will mean that more resources will have to be put into job creation. Hopefully the government will create jobs to restore and rebuild Boracay into a sustainable island that can contribute positively toward the country’s profit. A statement has been made by presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque. Boracay will have alternative jobs for residents that are living on Boracay, but time will tell whether this is will actually happen. Unfortunately, since foreigners and tourists will be ordered off the island, it will be difficult for unbiased media coverage of the project.

The Manila Bulletin’s reporters Genalyn Kabiling and Analou De Vera covered this story by citing that Senator Nancy Binay expressed concerns about a solid plan for Boracay’s citizens. While there is a lot that’s being said for what needs to be done, skeptics argue that there is no formal procedure for a specific breakdown. An informal timetable has been made, but not much else. Looking closer at these signs posted, one can see that there isn’t sufficient details about what is actually going to happen.

After speaking with both tourists and locals, I have received many different opinions on the closure. Everyone requested to be anonymous, but I was surprised to hear that some locals are happy with the restoration. I expected many to angry at the closure, but some are content because they feel that this closure is karma for foreign investors who decided to buy different parts of the island, renovate it, without a concern for its sewage, trash, or sanitation. While some of the nicer locations and hotels had a separation of recyclables and trash, many others grouped the trash together in large bags. While walking on the beaches, I saw abandoned shoes, sandals, clothes, beer bottles, cigarette packs, plastic, and many things that were not going to disintegrate anytime soon. Looking at some of the photos I took while visiting Boracay will clearly show how beautiful some parts of the island are, while others are flooded, underdeveloped, underfunded, and just plain abandoned. Some parts of the island have lavish resorts with, blue beaches, and white sand, while walking through the center of the walkways reveal a different standard of living. Many are living in places with limited plumbing, electricity, and resort to opening small convenient stores connected to their homes as a means of livelihood.

This living situation is not limited to just people. Dogs are roaming the streets and many are strays. One of the saddest things that I saw was the taxi driver who took me from the jetty at Boracay Island to my hostel. As we were driving, there were countless stray dogs wandering aimlessly on the side of the streets and the driver had to honk his horn to warn them. They had no concern for their own well being. This could be due to hunger or despair. As we were driving, I saw a dog that was flattened from it’s mid section to the end of its tail. It had managed to crawl to the side of the road and there was another dog sitting beside it with its paw touching the crippled dog. I am not sure how this dog had the energy, but it propped its torso up and had its head up as if to say, I’m still here. If that wasn’t enough to make me wonder about the stray dog problem, our taxi rounded a turn and we saw what could have been a smaller dog, maybe even a puppy, mangled and turned into road kill.

So disheartening, however while we as tourists view the island closure as an inconvenience to our spring break, summer, wanderlust, or backpacking plans, this place has clear problems that need to be addressed. They cannot be solved with more investments from big companies or private backers with the only goal of profit. The Philippines needs to follow through with their environmental cleanup project so that it show the world that it will not stay open simply to cater to the tourism industry. It’s important to be aware and educated when traveling so that one’s actions can positively affect a country instead of whittling away at its beauty and ecosystem. There is hope that this will be a successful renovation and much needed break for the island to set some grounding for proper and smarter resource and waste management. Time will tell.