EXCLUSIVE: Boracay sewage system rehab to finish next month - DENR

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 9) — Rehabilitation of the sewage system in Boracay will be completed by September as the government is bent on meeting its deadline for reopening the island to tourists on October 26. 

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines in Boracay on Friday, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the treatment of drainage and waste water on the island is ongoing but there is no more cesspool there. He also said the white beach is already "very clean"  and safe for swimming.

"Next month matatapos na ito. Nagkokonekta pa rin kasi sila ng mga pipe," he said. "The two pipes will be composed of... the drainage which is treated, the sewage which is also treated.

[Translation: This will be finished by next month. They are still connecting the pipes.)]

Cimatu, who heads the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, explained that the pipes would open to the sea, at least one kilometer away from the shoreline.

Lack of a proper sewage system, illegal structures, and abuse of the environment forced President Rodrigo Duterte to order the shutdown of the popular tourist destination on April 26, calling the waters around the island a "cesspool."

The President formed the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force to rehabilitate the island within six months despite protests from local residents and business-owners that the sudden closure of the tourist attraction would displace thousands of workers.

Cimatu, who heads the task force, said the cesspool the President was referring to around the Bulabog area had been cleaned as establishments and residents were no longer dumping their waste water there.  Private companies such as San Miguel Corporation, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc., the Lucio Tan Group, Cebu Pacific, and the Energy Development Corporation of the Lopez Group were also helping in clearing the wetlands, he said.     

The Secretary said rehabilitation work on the island was "on target" for the reopening on  October 26 -- but admitted this was not yet official.

"There were several (comments) rito, including (from the Tourism) Secretary herself, that kailangan to put it in writing pala ito that it will be open in October 26 bago sila ma-make it official and transmit this to the world, including doon sa nagpapa-reserve from other countries," he explained.

[Translation: There were several (comments) here, including (from the Tourism) Secretary herself, that the opening on October 26 has to be put in writing so they can make it official and transmit it to the world, including those who are making reservations from other countries.]

The task force is set meet on August 26 to decide if establishments could now start accepting bookings.

'Surprise' in new Boracay

When rehabilitation is complete, Cimatu promised the "new Boracay" would be clean, and well-organized with wider roads, strict zoning rules. 

"We are also doing something at the pier... and we will be giving a surprise for those who will be coming back because they will see a new and better Boracay," he said.

"There will be a place for all souvenir shops. There will be some establishments na they are not supposed to be here, they are supposed to be in the mainland."

Cimatu said only electric tricycles would be allowed and the use of kerosene for fire stunts banned.

The Secretary clarified that the Boracay closure was only the "first wave" of rehabilitation for the island. After the demolition of illegal structures and rehabilitation of the sewage system, he said the second phase would cover the forest lands.