ILOILO CITY-Tourists have begun canceling trips to Boracay Island in Aklan province, a few days after President Duterte called the popular island-resort a "cesspool."
But the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Western Visayas assured tourists that water quality in Boracay was within acceptable standards, especially for swimming and water sports activities.
A high-end hotel catering mostly to Chinese and Korean tourists reported cancellation of bookings for this week.
Before Mr. Duterte called Boracay a "cesspool," hotels and resorts on the island had expected full bookings in time for the celebration of the Chinese New Year on Feb. 16.
QUERIES FROM GUESTS
Most hotels and resort operators would still verify the status of reservations, but they expected queries from prospective guests on the status of the island following the President's controversial pronouncements.
They are also concerned about the possible backlash on tourist arrivals.
In a speech during a business forum at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City on Friday, the President decried the island's environmental situation.
"I will close Boracay. Boracay is a cesspool," Mr. Duterte said.
"There will be a time that no more foreigner will go there because … when he goes back to the plane, he will be full of shit going back and forth to the restroom," he said.
The President said he would close the 1,032-hectare island after six months if the sewage and garbage problems of the island remained unsolved.
A report of the DENR's Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Western Visayas showed that water quality in bathing areas in Boracay was safe for swimming and water sports. The areas are along the white beach on the western side of the island.
Average fecal coliform concentration was 8.0 most probable number (MPN)/100 milliliters (ml), the annual water quality sampling in 2017 showed.
This was within the acceptable concentration of 100 MPN/100 ml for areas categorized for swimming and 200 MPN/100 ml for areas for noncontact activities, such as docking and boating, according to the EMB report.
"The annual range of the coliform concentrations showed a minimum concentration of 2.0 MPN/100 ml to a maximum concentration of 71 MPN/100 ml, which shows continued compliance with water quality standards,'' read the report, a copy of which was furnished to the Inquirer.
It said water quality had improved over the past several years from the 101.2 MPN/100 ml in 2012.
The concentration of fecal coliform bacteria in bodies of water indicates the level of contamination of domestic sewage and human and animal waste.
Levels above tolerable standards may lead to illnesses on contact with water or through ingestion.
In 2015, coliform bacterial levels in Sitio Bulabog in Barangay Balabag on the eastern side of the island reached 47,460 MPN/100 ml.
The area is popular for water sports but many tourists have avoided it due to foul smell in recent years, which is blamed on sewage draining into the sea.
The EMB reports were based on monthly sampling and analysis from 15 stations on the island, including eight in bathing areas. The samples are taken 100 meters from the shoreline.
"The waters are safe for swimming but we need to address the serious problems," said Jim Sampulna, environment regional director.
Business groups on the island welcomed the deadline to solve the problems but were against the closing down of the island, which provides thousands of jobs in hotels, resorts, restaurants and construction firms.
"Closure of the island is not the solution to the problems that have long been existing. What we need is less reaction but more action through strong leadership, stringent implementation of laws, and solid and organised plans based on scientific studies and research," the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI)-Boracay said in a statement.
The group, which is composed of about 50 companies, said what was important was for all sectors to act collectively to address the problems.