As visitors return to Boracay resort island, so do the piles of rubbish

A child walks past rubbish at the materials recovery facility dumpsite on the Philippine island of Boracay, on Oct 27, 2018.
A child walks past rubbish at the materials recovery facility dumpsite on the Philippine island of Boracay, on Oct 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BORACAY ISLAND (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tourists have poured into Boracay in droves three days after its reopening, amazed at the world-famous resort island's transformation after a six-month cleanup.

But residents and guests alike are worried about the likely return of a problem that has persisted for years: piles of rubbish all over the island.

On Sunday (Oct 28), the 4km stretch of the island's famous White Beach was filled with visitors, mostly locals from Aklan and the adjoining provinces on the island of Panay.

From the reopening last Friday to noon on Sunday, 6,434 visitors entered Boracay, according to records at the Caticlan Jetty Port.

They have been filling the hundreds of hotels, bars and restaurants that have reopened after meeting the government's new, strict requirements for permits to operate.

The highest recorded visitor influx came last Saturday, with 3,650 guests arriving on the island, including 3,191 who had confirmed hotel bookings.

The recorded daily figures represent manageable visitor traffic, still far from the island's carrying capacity of 6,405 guests, according to Mr Niven Maquirang, the Caticlan port administrator.

But as Boracay's tourism industry creeps back to life, residents and even visitors themselves have noticed rubbish on the island.

First-time visitors from Russia said on Sunday that they were amazed at the beauty of the island but were dismayed by the improper disposal of rubbish.

 
 

They pointed to a pile of uncollected rubbish on the roadside of D'Mall Plaza at Barangay Balabag.

Such disregard for environmental cleanliness was one of the reasons President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Boracay shut down in April for cleanup and rehabilitation.

Before the shutdown, Boracay generated 71 tonnes of rubbish every day.

After the cleanup, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is keeping an eye on waste disposal on the island, although it has yet to fully enforce a ban on single-use plastics.

The Inquirer saw stores and restaurants that still sell food and drinks in single-use plastic plates, cups and bottles with straws.

Water in plastic bottles is widely sold on the island.

According to Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, the ban on single-use plastics would be "strictly implemented" after Nov 2.

That should ease the job of Mr Alberto Rodriguez, 65, who oversees rubbish collection on the island.

Mr Rodriguez wakes up at 1am every day and walks half a kilometre to Balabag Plaza, one of five rubbish collection points in the village, to supervise disposal.

From 2am to sunrise, residents bring their rubbish to the collection points. Following a rule strictly enforced by Mr Rodriguez - no segregation, no collection - the rubbish comes in separate bags: food waste, residuals, recyclables and garden waste.

Those who forget the rule have to take their rubbish back home.

"If I say I will not accept their garbage, they cannot do anything. I am just doing my job," Mr Rodriguez said.

He has a greater reason to enforce the rule now: Boracay had been shut down because of waste.

It should not happen again, although the Malacañang presidential palace said on Sunday that it was open to shutting down Boracay for a month's "rest" every year, as suggested by acting Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

"The President always wants (Boracay) in order. If the ones running Boracay think that it will be for the good of Boracay, then definitely (we are for it)," presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.