BORACAY, Philippines – As residents of the Boracay Island continued on Friday to prepare for the island’s reopening later in the month, there was an air of relief in the air.
The earnings of most island residents, who lived off tourism, had dropped significantly during the six months the island was closed to tourists.
“It has been difficult. I had no other option but to work as a construction worker in the remodeling of the hotel during these months,” Rexie Rebaca, 30, who worked as a waiter on the island, told EFE.
The island – which attracted more than two million visitors in 2017 – was shut down on the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte to check illegal expansion of hotels and tighten environmental norms and redevelop the surroundings.
Before the closure of Boracay in April, Rexie earned around 10,000 pesos ($190) per month, besides what he earned from commission and tips.
Now, like many others in his situation, he earns a minimum wage of 323 pesos a day, and hopes to resume his work as waiter once the island, which he admits had become overcrowded and filthy, fully reopens.
While almost everyone in the island, which has some 30,000 inhabitants, believe that measures were necessary to check the overcrowding and pollution, including that of the beaches and the sea, several people disagreed with a complete shutdown.
Jonel Bautista, 34, who drives a motorized tricycle, had left the island for his native place in Bacolod to work as a waiter during the six months the island was shut down to tourism.
He returned when the island opened partially and claims that while he earned around 900 pesos a day earlier, he now makes barely 300 pesos a day.
When the announcement of the shutdown was made, the government said it had a budget of 450 million pesos to aid the 25,000 workers affected by it, but it did not include employees from the informal sector.
Sisters Joan, Jessica and Janice Dominguez, who sold handicrafts and souvenirs near the beach did not benefit from the government’s aid program, and had to return to their house in Kalibo.
“The shutdown of the island was rushed. We did not get time to prepare,” said Jessica.
The island is set to reopen on Oct. 26 with a cap of 19,200 tourists daily.