RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is about to shut down the country's biggest tourist draw. So if you had been planning a visit to the island of Boracay, think again. Michael Sullivan reports on how the shutdown is affecting that community.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Here's the thing - Boracay is a tourist magnet. Twenty-year-old Frida Roemer from Copenhagen got here back in February, and she can't seem to leave.
FRIDA ROEMER: I think this is an amazing beach. Like, it's so beautiful. And like, the palm trees, the white sand, clear water. I think Boracay is amazing, and the Philippines is amazing.
SULLIVAN: She's not alone. More than 2 million people visited the tiny island last year, worth more than a billion dollars in income, which helps explain why they just keep building and building. And the island's infrastructure can't keep up. This is Bulabog Beach on the eastern side of Boracay, and I'm sitting literally on a sewage pipe, about 16 inches in diameter. And there was a video of this pipe spewing raw sewage into the bay while a windsurfer went by. That enraged the president.
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PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: I will close Boracay. Boracay is a cesspool. There will be a time that no more foreigner will go there. We give you six months. Clean the [expletive] thing.
SULLIVAN: So for the next six months, that's what they'll try to do. But that means thousands of jobs are about to go out the window, for now at least.
JONA CADIANG: Yes, I'm worried. Actually, a month ago, we were already asking, what will be our status here?
SULLIVAN: Jona Cadiang works at Southwest Tours, which pretty much has a lock on bringing tourists to the island by bus and by boat.
CADIANG: For our regular day basis, sir, usually we accommodate at least 3,000 or 4,000 a day.
SULLIVAN: With the closure looming, it's about a tenth of that now, she says. She's hoping her company reassigns her during the closure but says waiting six months for Boracay to reopen isn't an option.
CADIANG: If we don't have a job, where are we going to find our daily basic needs - our food and help out our family?
SULLIVAN: Her coworker, Zenny Retulin, agrees.
ZENNY RETULIN: I will look for another job, sir. Six months is too long to wait.
SULLIVAN: But here's the thing - almost everyone here agrees that Boracay needs fixing.
NANNETTE GRAF: It's long overdue that the attention of the national government is on us because we've been asking for help for so many years to look at the problems in Boracay.
SULLIVAN: Nannette Graf is the owner of the Boracay Beach Resort and is president of the Boracay Foundation, an umbrella group of local businesses. She likes the idea of cleaning up Boracay but says the government should have given them more warning.
ROWEN AGUIERRE: I agree with that.
SULLIVAN: That's Rowen Aguierre, executive assistant to the mayor here.
AGUIERRE: Right now, they're scrambling to formulate a workable plan.
SULLIVAN: You don't think they have one yet?
AGUIERRE: Well, what they're making are general statements. What we need are the details to back up those statements.
SULLIVAN: Aguierre says there's lots to be done in terms of improving infrastructure, starting with - but not limited to - improving the sewage system.
AGUIERRE: We have to fix the roads, traffic, setbacks. All those things have to be addressed within this period.
SULLIVAN: Can that actually be done in six months' time?
AGUIERRE: No, but if we are really serious about doing it, we could make substantial inroads into it, no?
SULLIVAN: Tell that to 29-year-old Carlos Losantas, who's unloading scuba tanks from a dive boat on White Beach.
CARLOS LOSANTAS: I have two kids. Six months, no food? Problem. It's good work here in Boracay, but in our province, salary there is much lower than here.
SULLIVAN: The government says it will provide assistance to those who can't find other work in the interim, but it's not clear how much or for how long. Losantas says the money might be allocated but doubts it will reach workers like him - corruption, he explains. But it's still a good idea, he says, to fix Boracay. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Boracay.
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