Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte ordered a military shutdown of the tourist island of Boracay on Thursday, describing it as a “cesspool” that smells of feces.
“I will close Boracay. It is a cesspool,” Duterte told reporters. “You go into the water, it’s smelly. The smell of what? Sh*t. Because it all comes out in Boracay.”
Hundreds of soldiers descended on the island on Thursday to clear all tourists for a six month period, causing anger among locals and business owners.
Images circulating on social media showed helicopters and heavily armed soldiers patrolling the island, forcing the shutdown of all tourist activities.
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) April 25, 2018
“President Duterte never disclosed to the public that his supposed rehabilitation plan includes deployment of police forces in a full battle gear,” Fernando Hicap, leader of the Boracay fishermen’s rights group Pamalakaya, told the New York Times.
“We can’t see the point of militarising the tourist island but to sow intimidation and curtail civil rights of the residents who stand affected by the six-month closure,” he continued.
Closing of Philippine tourist hub stirs fears of military takeover. From Thursday (April 26), no local or foreign tourists will be allowed on the island resort of Boracay. https://t.co/0jCp5XyJ81 pic.twitter.com/UXRtmLar9V
— TODAY (@TODAYonline) April 26, 2018
All island residents must now be able to prove their residency, while business owners must show a proof of ownership. Foreigners living on the island will also have to prove their status to immigration officials.
Around two million tourists visit the island every year for its warm weather and idyllic beaches, pumping over $1 billion into the local economy. Local airlines have announced they will now be scaling back flights.
However, some locals agree the move is necessary to protect the local environment.
“Local government officials have been so negligent. They don’t know how to manage and protect this island,” Varril Santa, the owner of a tour boat company, told Reuters. “It would be better if the national government can run this island. It’s better for Boracay, it’s better for our tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, government officials also maintain the move is vital to protect the country’s environment, particularly its contaminated water.
“We have to swallow the bitter pill if we wish to sustain and protect the island of Boracay,” said the country’s assistant secretary for tourism Frederick Alegre. “It is a temporary setback but we will recover the glory days of Boracay.”
Alegre also warned that other islands could face closure in the future.
“Let’s be clear about this. This is being done to sustain and save Boracay,” he said. “This is the first of many tourist destinations that we are going to look into; and the whole message is it’s still ‘More fun in the Philippines’ and more importantly, we are environmentally compliant. That’s the message that we want to get out.”