Sceptical senators question motive for closing Boracay amid casino plan

Scenes such as this will be just a memory when the closure order comes into force on April 26

Senators have expressed scepticism over the looming closure of Boracay Island, even as plans for a huge casino resort are pushing ahead.

Speaking today (Thursday, April 5), Senator Antonio Trillanes – a staunch critic of the president – questioned the “real motive” behind the six-month closure, which takes effect on April 26.

“I will question the real motive behind the closure of Boracay,” he said. “Because I don’t believe that Mr Duterte is an environmentalist.”

The senator said the rehabilitation could be done without closing the island, adding that many businesses were not violating any environmental regulations.

“I suspect that the reason they shut down Boracay is to allow cargo in – cement, or whatever, to build that casino. That’s my suspicion but we will validate that because it doesn’t make sense at all to close it.”

He went on to say there was too much “coincidence” that the casino operator met the president in December, was granted a franchise a few weeks later, all before yesterday’s closure order.

Despite proposals to shut the island down, the government has still approved plans for the construction of a $500 million casino resort by a Chinese and local development company.

Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva expressed concerns about the “haste” to close the island, saying the government should put in place first a concrete plan for affected workers.

“It is unfortunate that the rehabilitation plan and livelihood interventions for the workers has not been clearly set in motion first before the closure of Boracay,” he said.

He added that about 36,000 workers could lose their jobs and 56 billion pesos in revenues could be lost due to the closure.

Senator said that a partial closure of would have been the strategy so establishments compliant with environmental laws could continue to operate.

“If they opt for a demolition, demolish first the areas that are obviously violating the government’s regulations,” he added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto warned that the closure would be a “disaster” if rehabilitation plans were only drawn up after the shutdown begins.

“Under our budgeting, procurement, accounting and auditing rules, you cannot ask for a blank check, and then say that liquidation shall follow. The release of funds is based on a programme of work, with the deliverables clearly identified,” he said.