MANILA (THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Residents and business operators on the Philippines' resort island of Boracay are unhappy with President Rodrigo Duterte likening the world-famous tourist destination to a pit of human waste.
But they welcome his directive to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to solve the sewage and garbage problem in the tiny central island known for its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters in six months, or risk having it be shut down.
In a speech during a business forum in his home city of Davao on Friday (Feb 9), Duterte called Boracay "a cesspool", adding that the sewage and garbage problem was destroying the island's ecosystem and posing a threat to the health of millions of visitors.
"You go into the water, it's smelly. Smell of what? S***. Because it all comes out in Boracay," he said.
A resident business operator, who asked not to be named to avoid reprisal from the President or his supporters, said calling the island a cesspool showed that the President was "probably misinformed of the nature and magnitude of the problems".
"Does he even think what will happen to the thousands of workers and their families who earn a living here if the island is closed down?" said the resident.
Another resident said the President's hardline stance could move other officials to take action. "Maybe the governor, congressman and local government units will wake up."
A business leader said Boracay's problems had worsened due to the inadequate support from the national government, citing the island's drainage system, which had yet to be completed more than 10 years after the project started.
"What we need is less reaction and condemnation and blame. We need actual ideas, solidly researched and organised plans, and leadership that will do the hard things to ensure Boracay can get through current difficulties," said another business leader.
Tourism officials have affirmed the President's assessment, AFP reported.
"It's a shame that Boracay, which has repeatedly been recognised by prestigious travel magazines as the world's most beautiful island, may yet end up a paradise lost if water contamination continues," Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said in a statement.
Ricky Alegre, the Department of Tourism spokesman, said a number of establishments were draining their sewage directly into the sea.
Of the 150 business establishments recently inspected by the government, only 25 were connected to the sewage line, he said.
Many establishments were also building too close to the beach and spilling over into the roads of the 1,000-hectare island, Alegre said.
The President earlier approved the creation of a task force to deal with the problems in Boracay.
Cimatu himself had warned owners that their establishments on the island would be shut down if they were found releasing sewage into the sea.
He said a "a serious and honest-to-goodness crackdown" was needed to bring Boracay back to what it was-a clean beach and unspoiled environment.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources earlier urged officials in Panay province-to which Boracay belonged-to require establishments and residents there to connect to the island's sewerage system to prevent untreated wastewater from flowing into the sea.
"It's not just establishments, but even the houses of local residents are not connected to the sewerage system," the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted the department's director, Jim Sampulna as saying.
He also noted that overpopulation was also a problem for the island-resort. Some 50,000 people, many of them workers, live in Boracay.
The island also hosts at least 2 million tourists yearly and brings in 56 billion pesos (S$1.49 billion) in annual revenues, according to the tourism department and industry sources.
As a result, the carrying capacity of the island has been exceeded since 2010, according to Sampulna.