Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque started sharing pictures of himself in Boracay last Saturday and on his second day on the island, he urged some Filipinos to visit his “happy place” as it geared for reopening.
“Punta na kayo Boracay! Tara na sa Boracay!” Roque exclaimed in one of the clips taken by local media.
He was seen waving his arms as he encouraged people who are living in modified general community quarantine and GCQ areas to visit the island.
Roque also shared a picture of him in swimming attire as he looked on at the blue waves of the white-sand beach with a smile on his face.
“Ang aking masayang lugar mula noon, hanggang ngayon,” he wrote on Facebook.
Last Friday, Roque reportedly said that he will hold his regular Palace briefings on Boracay to help attract tourists.
He added that President Rodrigo Duterte may also visit the tourist destination “in the near future.”
The spokesperson reasoned that Boracay’s opening for tourists will benefit the local economy and Filipinos’ psychological well-being after being quarantined for several months.
“Ang muling pagbubukas ng Boracay sa turismo ay magiging mabuti hindi lamang para sa ekonomiya ngunit para din sa kalusugan ng pag-iisip at emosyonal ng mga tao na matagal nang nakakulong sa kanilang mga tahanan at naghahangad na makahanap ng isang maikling pagtakas mula sa kanilang quarantined life,” he said on Facebook.
Boracay opened its doors to local tourists on October 1.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that the opening builds momentum for domestic tourism nationwide as people in the tourism industry resume their livelihood.
She also assured the public that there are stringent health and safety measures in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Philstar.com reported that the measure includes the undergoing of COVID-19 detection test before travel and requiring a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-CPR) result 48 to 72 hours prior to traveling to Boracay.
“Also, travelers will be advised to go on a strict quarantine immediately after a test and until the time of travel to the island,” Puyat was quoted as saying.
Airlines are advised to use only one airport for entry of travelers, which is the Godofredo P. Ramos Airport in Caticlan in the municipality of Malay.
Aside from the health protocols, visitors are expected to follow the “Health and Safety Guidelines Governing the Operation of Island and Beach Destinations under the New Normal” or memorandum Circular No. 2020-007 signed by Puyat early this month.
Under these guidelines, lifeguards will be accompanied by beach marshalls or officers tasked to ensure that protocols such as physical distancing are followed in island tourist destinations during prescribed swimming hours.
A COVID-19 laboratory is also operational at the Dr. Rafael S. Tumbokon Memorial Hospital in Kalibo, Aklan.
Despite Roque’s invite for Filipinos to visit the island, he reminded them that the threat of COVID-19 is still very much present and advised them to take serious precautions even while traveling.
“Sa kagalakan at pag-asang bumisita sa Boracay, huwag nating kalimutan na nasa kalagitnaan pa tayo ng laban sa COVID-19. Ang virus ay nasa paligid pa rin natin at kailangan pa nating maging labis na mag-ingat, at kailangan nating isaalang-alang ang bagay na ito habang pinaplano natin ang mga ruta sa paglalakbay,” he said.
Manila’s ‘white sands’
Before promoting Boracay, the government enticed the public to visit a “beautified” Manila Bay, which recently saw dolomite dumped at its shores.
“Kung hindi man sila makapunta ng Boracay, Bohol, Palawan, or Cebu, itong mga kababayan sa Maynila, ilalapit natin sa kanila ang white sand dito sa baywalk area,” Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told ABS-CBN News in September, defending the project from criticisms.
But the contrast in the messages was spotted by some on social media.
“What baffles me is, they beautified (a small portion of) Manila Bay so people won’t need to go to Boracay, yet now they’re encouraging people to actually visit Boracay?” a Twitter user pointed out with an upside-down smiling emoji in response to Roque’s visit.
“Wait. I thought we didn’t (need) to go there anymore since we have a white sand beach in Manila Bay now. I’m so confused,” quipped another online user with a laughing-with-tears emoji.
“Oh ba’t nandyan ka sa Boracay? Dun ka sa Manila Bay, sayang ‘yung milliones na ginastos ta’s diyan mo lang papapuntahin,” a Filipino sarcastically responded to a clip of Roque encouraging the public to visit the tourist destination.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources previously drew flak for placing crushed dolomite rocks along a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay’s shorelines in an attempt to make its sands white amid the pandemic but Roque said the project was proposed two years ago.
He said that it was supposedly part of the overall rehabilitation program for Manila Bay which the Duterte administration started to pursue after cleaning up Boracay that was compared to a “cesspool.”
Marine scientists said the costly initiative would not solve the natural harbor’s various environmental problems.
The bay is currently closed for the completion of DENR’s project and is eyed to be reopened after the pandemic.