Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) held a picket at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to protest the impending closure of Boracay island. The group said the arbitrary six-month closure had no comprehensive scientific rehabilitation plan, but will displace thousands of workers in the process.

“Duterte’s Boracay closure order is like bar-drunk swagger that had no comprehensive, scientific basis and no heart for the 36,000 workers it will displace. His yes men are struggling to come up with rehab, security, and even completely illogical land reform plans, but these cannot justify the full closure of the island. With no comprehensive rehab plan whatsoever, we see Duterte’s closure order will benefit the only Boracay projects that have full plans and in full implementation, the Chinese-backed mega casinos,” said Leon Dulce, National Coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

The environment group noted that the planned casino of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment will be built on an inland forest area of Boracay and still has a provisional permit from the government in effect up to present.

“What kind of environmental rehab plan would allow the conversion of native tree forests into a mega casino? Despite the Department of Tourism’s claim the Galaxy casino is searching for a new location, locals report the company’s local partners recently continued to acquire land in Boracay. The DILG’s guidelines on the closure do not even include a moratorium for new construction projects which makes the closure order even more suspect,” said Dulce.

A Fact-Finding Solidarity Mission (FFSM) was conducted last week by environmental groups and people’s organizations to investigate the circumstances and effects of the impending closure of Boracay on the people. The Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) was among those groups which joined the mission.

“Despite repeated requests by various organizations and even media outfits, President Duterte and the DENR has not yet divulged any plan or paper which details how exactly they are going to embark on rehabilitating the island, or as to why they arbitrarily chose six months as the supposed recovery period. There was not even a public consultation held prior to Duterte’s verbal pronouncements on closing the island. Up to the present, there is still no order or legal basis for the closure.” said Lia Alonzo, a researcher from CEC.

Kim-Sin Tugna, of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) – Aklan, who was also part of the FFSM, reported that the deployment of 630 fully-armed police only sowed fear and terror among the populace.

“Despite the absence of a writ of eviction, which can only be issued by the courts, the DENR escorted by police forces have been asking residents to leave since their houses were said to be built on wetlands. The residents wondered why they were being evicted now when they have been paying taxes for the land they were occupying. The intimidation of the police in fatigue uniforms and bearing high powered rifles caused fear and panic among the residents. During our public consultation, residents reported to that the police told them that they will ask for the deployment of soldiers and turn Boracay into a ‘new Marawi’ if the residents will resist,” Tugna said.

“Although the rehabilitation of the Boracay is indeed much needed, any move to help the islands heal should also not leave behind the livelihood concerns of the residents who have no other means to earn decent income in the first place. But with a casino to be built on Boracay’s forest itself, the closure order only reveals that the Duterte regime’s environmental pronouncements are a sham. Moreover, we castigate the Duterte regime for enforcing its arbitrary closure order using draconic and dictatorial methods which only terrorize the people,” Dulce concluded.#