Tourists and residents flocked to the beachfront of Boracay Island to witness the last sunset before its official closure begins tomorrow.
The usually crowded and lively white sand beaches had a more somber atmosphere this evening (Wednesday, April 25).
While many recognise the need to tackle Boracay’s environmental issues, the decision to close the entire island down at such short notice has been criticised.
Aside from business owners, workers who depend on the island for income are dismayed by the decision to ban tourists, especially without consulting the local community.
Now, a petition has been filed by three islanders asking the Supreme Court to halt the closure.
Petitioners Mark Anthony Zabal, Thiting Jacosalem and Odon Badiola have accused the government of “patent abuse of power and reckless disregard of the law”.
They also say that the closure will restrict the liberty of all tourists and non-residents. Those working in the island, meanwhile, will be deprived of their livelihood.
“Even Boracay residents who would be allowed to remain thereon would be adversely affected. Tourism drives the economy of the entire island, and without it, the people who live and work there lose their source of income,” they said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque responded that there was “no reason” to challenge the six-month closure order that begins tomorrow.
He said the president had the jurisdiction to issue the directive, as the high court has ruled in 2008 that Boracay was state-owned.
“While the president respects the court, we see absolutely no merit for any private party to restraint the closure of Boracay to tourists, given that Supreme Court itself has previously ruled that Boracay is owned primarily by the state,” he said.
“We see no reason how private persons can allege and prove irreparable injuries, a prerequisite for TRO [temporary restraining order], given that their stay in the island is by mere tolerance of the State.”
Yesterday, Roque said the president would place Boracay under a ‘state of calamity’ before the start of the closure. Duterte, however, has yet to sign any such Executive Order.
Business leaders on the island have warned that the shutdown could lead to bankruptcies and job losses for many of the island’s 17,000 tourism workers.
The island drew two million visitors last year, earning the country more than $1 billion in tourism revenues.
Hundreds of police have been deployed on the island as a precaution against violent protests.
Meanwhile, shops and restaurants have slashed their prices in a last-minute bid to clear their stocks.