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On Boracay casino: Let’s stop it

By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

A lot of people still suspect that the closure of Boracay beginning April 26 was to give way to the construction of a 23-hectare, $500-million resort- casino on the island by the Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group.

Since the news broke out, netizens were up in arms, knowing that Boracay is respected, admired and ranked Number 1 among the “Best Islands in the World”. With the construction of a casino, critics doubt the government’s sincerity to protect the popular tourist destination.

President Duterte denied knowing about plans to put up a casino on Boracay. What’s puzzling was a photo supposedly released by Malacañang in 2017 that showed him in a meeting with officials of a Chinese company behind the planned casino.

In a press conference, Duterte clarified that “there are no plans for a casino. Let’s stop it because it’s too much.

There’s a casino here, casino there.” What the President did mention was his intention to “consider Boracay a land reform area. I will give it to the farmers, to the Filipinos first.”

Duterte promised to issue a proclamation since, according to the law, Boracay is mostly comprised of agricultural and forestland. He revealed that the six-month closure order would be in preparation for the return of the land to the people who need it the most.

But Duterte’s statement brought confusion to the 36,000 people who would be rendered jobless due to Boracay’s closure like the vendors, boatmen, and diving instructors, as well as the employees of hotels and restaurants, all striving to make a living to support their loved ones. What job awaits them after six months? And what becomes of the island’s tourism if it becomes an agricultural land?

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Proclamation 1064 classified Boracay Island into 400 hectares of reserved forestland and 628.96 hectares of agricultural land. But the question is can the island truly support any kind of farming activity?

If Boracay would indeed be given to farmers, some people doubt the timing of the closure since it would supposedly coincide with the construction of the massive casino on the island. Would this turn the island into a gambler’s paradise or heaven for the elite and make it lose the reputation that has endeared it to tourists around the globe?

Salute Duterte for stopping the casino construction on Boracay. He should be praised for thinking about the Filipinos and prioritizing them in his plans. Thank you, Mr. President. Firing Line and the Filipino people hold you to your word.

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