Wetland dwellers in Boracay distressed over threats of arrest

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Boracay (CNN Philippines, April 19) - Tensions are high in Boracay as residents living on wetlands decried threats of arrests by authorities preparing for the island's closure on April 26.

"Kargado sila ng mahahabang baril, next na naman ganun pa rin tapos sinasabi nila kelangan namin umalis (They carry long firearms. They would come back and tell us the same thing that we have to leave)," resident Edlyn Apelido said.

A number of residents told the media that officers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), accompanied by military men, have been visiting their homes in the past few days, telling them to vacate, otherwise they will be arrested.

"Nakakastress tapos nagpapanic kami dahil may mga bata kami. Wala naman problema sa pag-alis, willing kami para sa kabutihan ng Boracay. Ang problema, wala ka nang bahay, wala ka pang hanapbuhay (It's stressful and we panic because we have kids in our house. We have nothing against leaving. We are willing to leave because it will benefit Boracay. The problem is we do not know where to live or where to work.)," she said.

Clearing structures on wetlands and forestlands is part of the government's six-month rehabilitation plan for the island. Apart from houses, 30,000 formal and informal residents stand to lose their jobs.

"Ano naman 'yung approval agad na ipapalit sa trabaho namin na six months nakatengga kami?" asked Jeffrey Canciller, a father of three.

The local government of Malay has previously vowed to provide financial aid to displaced residents. But locals are worried about the lack of concrete plans being laid out. They also felt alienated from important dialogues like Tuesday's inter-agency conference held at a posh hotel.

"Malapit na mag-closure ang Boracay sa April 26. Wala pa rin kaming nakikitang tamang sistema. (The island's closure is on April 26 but still we have not seen an apparent system," said Ernesto Bandiola Cruz, Boracay Photographer Association president.

He said that if people go hungry, they might resort to illegal ways to survive.

The Philippine National Police earlier said the police force is ready for possible violence that may erupt from the closure of the island.