Philippines approves six-month closure of Boracay tourist island from April

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday approved the closure of the country’s most famous tourist island, Boracay, for six months from April 26, his spokesman said, paving the way for a major cleanup of what he had described as a “sewer pool”.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

Boracay, on the northern tip of central Panay island, is a top destination for local and foreign tourists and its sugary white sand, lively night scene and abundant water sports attracted nearly 2 million visitors last year.

The island earns revenue from luxury hotels such as Shangri-La’s five-star Boracay Resort & Spa and beachside restaurants and also employs thousands of local residents.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced Duterte’s decision via Twitter without giving further details.

Duterte, whose leadership style has been criticized as dictatorial, has castigated the local government and residents for “overzealous” development and permitting beachfront building with inadequate sewage and water treatment facilities.

Many businesses on the island have been releasing wastewater directly into the sea, violating rules on wastewater management, according to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, described the discussion about Boracay’s temporary closure during a cabinet meeting late on Wednesday as “exhaustive” and said affected companies would receive financial assistance.

The closure, which is shorter than the one-year shutdown recommended by the environment ministry, comes just a few weeks after the government gave Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd permission to build a $500 million casino and resort in Boracay.

Philippine Airlines said it will scale down its services to Caticlan and Kalibo airports, the gateways to Boracay, for six months from April following the government’s decision.

It will expand flights to other tourist and provincial destinations in the Philippines, it said in a statement.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg