An­tiriot cops Bo­ra­cay-bound

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS - —RE­PORTS FROM NESTORP. BURGOSJR. ANDAFP INQ

The Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion was de­ploy­ing hun­dreds of an­tiriot po­lice­men to Bo­ra­cay to keep trav­el­ers out and head off protests that a po­lice of­fi­cer said could be driven by left­ists ahead of the is­land’s six-month clo­sure to tourists, po­lice said on Tues­day.

Au­thor­i­ties laid out a lock­down plan to keep out all tourists us­ing more than 600 po­lice­men, in­clud­ing a 138-mem­ber “crowd dis­per­sal unit,” ac­cord­ing to Chief Supt. Ce­sar Hawthorne Bi­nag, West­ern Visayas po­lice di­rec­tor, in a tele­vised news con­fer­ence in Bo­ra­cay.

“In any tran­si­tion, es­pe­cially for a dras­tic ac­tion such as this, there is al­ways con­fu­sion, un­cer­tain­ties and low morale,” Bi­nag said.

Ag­i­ta­tors

“What we did was to iden­tify the sources of con­fu­sion, sources of un­cer­tainty and sources of low morale,” he said.

He said there was also a dan­ger of res­i­dents and work­ers be- ing “ag­i­tated” by left­ist groups.

Sev­eral Bo­ra­cay res­i­dents had raised con­cern over the de­ploy­ment of more po­lice­men to the is­land fa­mous for its white sand beaches.

Bi­nag, in his pre­sen­ta­tion be­fore of­fi­cials, busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents in Bo­ra­cay, said po­lice would also tap 2,000 se­cu­rity guards cur­rently em­ployed by pri­vate es­tab­lish­ments to help se­cure the is­land.

Re­stricted en­try

Aside from protests, pos­si­ble fires, at­tacks, bomb­ings, kid­nap­pings and gun at­tacks were also be­ing con­sid­ered as threats by po­lice, ac­cord­ing to Bi­nag.

En­try and exit points in 16 ar­eas would be se­cured, he said.

Only res­i­dents, work­ers and gov­ern­ment per­son­nel would be al­lowed en­try start­ing on April 26.

Vis­i­tor en­try would be al­lowed only on two con­di­tions—there’s an emer­gency and with per­mis­sion by se­cu­rity of­fi­cials. Res­i­dents would be re­quired to se­cure and present gov­ern­men­tis­sued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards for ac­cess to the 1,000-hectare Bo­ra­cay. Jour­nal­ists, how­ever, ques­tioned the se­cu­rity plans, es­pe­cially guide­lines for me­dia cov­er­age dur­ing the lock­down. Re­porters would be al­lowed on the is­land only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the guide­lines said. They would also be es­corted and their move­ments mon­i­tored. Re­porters said the re­stric­tions were tan­ta­mount to prior re­straint.

Ex-re­porter’s view

Fred­er­ick Ale­gre, for­mer re­porter and now tourism as­sis­tant sec­re­tary, said plan­ners would con­sider the re­porters’ feed­back. Busi­ness own­ers, who pre­vi­ously lob­bied for a phased re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram, had warned that an abrupt shut­down could lead to bank­rupt­cies and job losses for many of the is­land’s 17,000 ho­tel, restau­rant and other tourism work­ers, in­clud­ing some 11,000 con­struc­tion work­ers.

The is­land drew 2 mil­lion vis­i­tors last year, earn­ing the coun­try more than a bil­lion dol­lars in tourism rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data.

The abrupt de­ci­sion to close Bo­ra­cay had forced hun­dreds of ho­tels, restau­rants, tour op­er­a­tors and other busi­nesses to can­cel book­ings, leav­ing clients fum­ing.

The threat of clo­sure first emerged in Fe­bru­ary when Mr. Duterte ac­cused Bo­ra­cay’s busi­nesses of dump­ing sewage di­rectly into the is­land’s turquoise wa­ters.

“I will close Bo­ra­cay. Bo­ra­cay is a cesspool,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.

The Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tained that it was le­gal for it to de­ploy po­lice and bar tourists from the is­land.

—LYN RILLON

Bo­ra­cay res­i­dents, like Toto shown here on a surf­board with his dogs, would have to en­dure re­stric­tions start­ing on April 26, when the is­land is locked down.

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