Populist regimes are beginning to discover environmental protection as a fertile signature issue. It is increasingly where the votes are. At least in small baby steps and far from everywhere. While Poland’s logging of Europe’s last remaining (and UNESCO-protected) primeval woodland of Białowieża has incurred a final judgment imposing a €100,000 daily fine by the ECJ, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has discovered that “When nature fights back, it does so with a vengeance.” His government imposed - and surprisingly upheld - a ban on open-pit mining and starts to target polluting steel mills.
Now, popular Boracay Island in the Philippines was closed to visitors for six months due to massive environmental problems. Starting April 26, authorities no longer permitted tourists to land on the island. Some 600 security forces were deployed in total to secure and enforce the visitors ban. Administering the “closure” alone amounts to a logistical nightmare.
The quarantine period until November is to be used to visit the island to fix the worst issues and perform a clean-up mission. Many hotels, restaurants and shops on Boracay are said to have, inter alia, channeled their sewage including feces for years simply into the sea. President Duterte is said to have personally ordered the closure and to have called Boracay, where vacationing tourists spent 21 million nights in 2017 alone, a “cesspool” - ordering his environmental secretary to “clean the goddamn thing.”
Boracay, about 300 kilometers south of Manila, was voted “best island in the world” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2017. About 40,000 locals live on the island, most of whom earn their livelihood from tourism. Real estate development has been another curse of popularity. The ban is estimated to cost tourism revenues of some $2.75 million as 15% of the country’s 6.5 million tourists visit Boracay. The Philippine government plans to provide emergency financial aid in the amount of some $109 million, although it has not clarified how these funds will be distributed.