By Charlie Greene
Friday 25, March
Mayor Bautista spoke candidly about his actions and vision in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic to protect Boracay Island. Boracay Sun News also presented him with a list of questions from members of the Island community.
BSN. Freida, BSN editor-in-chief: Are there plans for the LGU to conduct / host regular virtual pressers or public & virtual townhall press conferences for the benefit of timely and proper information dissemination to your constituents? Many find that there is a lack of communication with the community and they are feeling lost. A venue for dialogue especially during these challenging times would serve everyone both ways, and would greatly help provide much-needed hope, encouragement and clarity. This way, announcements can be verified, and resolutions and mandates can be clarified, including what is being done, thus, well-informing the public, directly from your office.
MFB. Actually, we have the LGU Malay website and somebody is assigned there to issue travel advisories or what the EO’s and other activities are in the municipality. So that’s one way the LGU provides the community with updated news and information.
BSN. But when people visit websites these days, there’s often lots old of information and sometimes they are quite difficult to navigate to find exactly what you want. Hence the request for a live press conference, or regular virtual meetings.
MFB. It can be that also, but as of now, I have a radio program in the mornings where where I do interviews regarding some issuing statements and what the latest activities are. And we also have Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedules of the program between 10;00 a.m. and 12;00 noon.
BSN. So, this information is coming direct from your office?
MFB. Yes. Directly from me.
BSN. Jed, diver, Manila resident and frequent Boracay tourist: Our family would like to visit Boracay at the soonest possible time and would like to take advantage of the island’s pristine condition as well as the good deals at the moment. Will tourists be required to have swab test negative result prior to arrival or upon arrival? Including local tourists from the province (we ae concerned about the rise in cases in Iloilo)? Aside from the safety benefit, this would save people from unnecessary travel expense and time. Will there be testing available upon arrival (i.e. mandatory antigen test)? How much is it? What will be the protocol?
MFB. What the agreement and the task force require is that those who come from Western Visayas will be subjected to a three days swab test result. As of now there was no approval yet from the department of health regarding the test, it’s in the process to be done something first so there was no license yet given by DOH, so we have to use the swab test for those who came from outside Western Visayas.
BSN. So there will be no quarantine period?
MFB. Ah no more quarantine period as long as you have a negative result on your swab test.
And once the test shows negative, it will be considered as okay, then I think we change it from RT to antigen test, which only takes 15 to 30 minutes, it’s faster compared to the other ones.
BSN. There will obviously be a cost attached to this, is the cost is passed onto to the tourists.
MFB. Yeah, I think it’s P3,500 for the test at the moment.
BSN. Julia, business stakeholder: Will digital apps be adapted for the entry protocols for visitors, to speed-up the process? (Ex: QR code for biometric contact tracing and health check forms)
MFB. Yes, we have, I think the government will be the one to implement that, I think they have it already. So, all tourists booking into Boracay has to pass through these apps now. The online booking and of course submit your confirmed bookings and then by filling up the online health declarations, and then once you comply with it then of course they will answer through online that you are accepted, and you show it as a passage it’s your pass going to Boracay jetty port.
BSN. Most people have smartphones these days, but for ones that don’t, maybe some of the seniors, if f they don’t have a QR code, will they still be permitted to travel, or do they just have to go through a different procedure.
MFB. So they have to fill up a form manually because we have a team at the jetty port to check the documents and help anyone complete any necessary documents. As long as they show all the documents, they can enter Boracay.
BSN. Business stakeholder Tess: Our Mayor’s permit is being renewed annually at the beginning of the year and is assessed based on sales of prior year. As such, will your kind office consider granting municipal tax or permit concessions for next year’s renewal? For example, would could the permits validity for the months closed this year be credited or validated for next year or for when we are able to reopen for business?
MFB. The taxes that you are paying today, are based on the gross income of last year. So, by next year, it depends on how much income revenue you will get, that will also be the basis of next year’s business tax. So, this year they are only January until March then October so meaning six months operation, so you will only pay six months revenue collected for this year.
BSN. Robert, resident: Has your kind office investigated and is there an action plan in place regarding the huge and “mysterious” spikes in water and power (Akelco) bills island-wide during the quarantine months, that started in April 2020?
MFB. Actually, they were invited, the water and electric utilities to the Bayan, the Council regarding this problem. And they explained why it goes up. Because of the billing system was only for the three months, so I think they understand and there was already an explanation regarding in this matter.
BSN. So both of the companies have given the explanation themselves.
MFB. Yeah there was no increase, but the billing system was for three months, then divide it into three months, that’s the way the changes will be… because of the three months billing were divided.
BSN. But this is something that is outside of your jurisdiction anyway.
MFB. Yeah but, since the people are clamouring, so we had to do something. But they already explained that to the council.
BSN. Business stakeholder Mark: Will there be a Covid-health center on the island? Where will be the closest one? What will be the SOP? What will be the medical response protocol for suspected Covid cases on the island?
MFB. All Covid problems will be treated in Kalibo, especially, just in case if a tourist is a suspect, then they will bring them to the hospital. If it is symptomatic then they will go to Kalibo. And will be quarantined in Aklan Covid Center in Kalibo. There will be no quarantine here on Boracay.
BSN. Does the hospital on Boracay have all the necessary facilities?
MFB. Yes, yes. We have a laboratory there and the problem only was the staff, if they are positive so that’s why they had a 14-day quarantine, so they suspended the operation of that laboratory. Then after 14 days they operated again.
BSN. Louise, mother: When will the curfew and bans for seniors and children be lifted? Those in these age groups are in dire need of recreation and freedom, many are suffering from a real danger called “depression.” They seek the same freedom to enjoy our beaches – at least a designated beach area for the locals if the LGU is concerned about their health / keeping them safely distanced from tourists.
MFB. Yes, the curfew was from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., we already adjusted it to 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. There was a discussion on lifting the restriction on the below 21 and above 60, so we are waiting since the Secretary Puyat also requested exemption from the Task force regarding the restrictions, or to lessen the restrictions on children going to Boracay and the senior ones. So once it’s approved, I will also make an Executive Order to allow local people to enjoy the beach, including the seniors and those under 20. So once it’s approved, I will make the amendments.
BSN. Are plans for change are already in place?
MFB. Yes. And the swimming time, now we have 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. so 12 hours in all, but we will be extending to 7:00 p.m. for the night swimming for one hour extra. So maybe after next week, after we meet with the task force, on Saturday, I will be issuing orders to extend for the swimming times.
BSN. And the signing into swim process will be the same?
MFB. Yes, the same. There will be a station for purpose of contact tracing, to take the temperature, and of course the monitoring system is there. We have the designated area for swimming, so we have people there to assess and monitoring all the swimmers for safety purposes.
BSN. Dr Joseph Riley, retired resident: Three years ago I purchased a property here on the island to retire. I requested information as to how I can best get around the island considering my medical condition. I was informed by transport dept that an Electric Trike would be preferable. At my age (78) I need four wheels for security and safety, I have invested in this island, retired here, and I have made this my home, may I request dispensation considering my medical condition and request the use of a four wheeled vehicle.
MFB. Yes, but since the possibility to allow a private vehicle is doubtful, because if we allow, everybody will buy one. And we have limited roads. That’s why it’s only exclusively used for business because they need it for service for delivery of their products and for public transport. For private individuals, it depends on the needs, we have to check it, but really we do not allow it because if we give one, everybody would want to follow. And what will happen if there are thousands of automobiles? Then that’s a big problem for us. We don’t want to have crowded roads.
BSN. But for somebody like this person who says he’s 78 years of age now and in need of it for medical purposes?
MFB. It will depend, we will check the regulated uses. If he uses it only for check-up or things like that, but for going out every day we will not allow it. It should only be considered for essential purposes. So maybe we can consider - we will check what is his condition.
BSN. He’s actually a doctor himself.
MFB. Does he have a driver?
BSN. If necessary, maybe he could have a driver. He finds it very difficult to get around when he has to go out. He also lives up quite a steep incline.
MFB. OK. We will see his health condition.
BSN. Pebbles, mother: My three kids and grandfather were all born on Boracay, but none of them can go out, use the beach, or meet friends. Yet foreigners and non-island residents can do so. Why are they being punished for being locals. Someone said they are being protected from mixing with visitors, but they feel (and so do I) that they are being victimized. It’s inhumane to segregate people like this – and also causes a lot of resentment against people at a time when we all need to support each other. When can we open up as a community again?
MFB. No, this is not a punishment, it’s only for their safety. Now in Western Visayas there’s a lot of transmission, especially in Kalibo and Iloilo. That’s why I really discourage the vulnerable ages to mingle with these people from other areas with local transmission being very dangerous. So, this is not a punishment to them, it’s for their own good also. However, for this time we have already started since June 16 that Aklanons are allowed on Boracay, and July 16 Western Visayas. And we did not have any cases, so I think this time we have to thank the consideration of allowing, since we have the experience already, but we really have to monitor it, mingling with some people outside Boracay is dangerous. And once we do that, we have to be strict about wearing face masks, physical distancing and of course sanitizing and hand washing will really be implemented and injected into the mind of everybody. Sometimes you forget your mask and that’s very dangerous. This is the only protection we have. So we really need to remind ourselves also and to be strict also in monitoring and uses of these requirements and standards.
BSN. The mother said to me, “you know, we’re a Boracay family. My children are now feeling a little bit of resentment against other children who are coming into the island and they’re feeling sad. Children should all be playing together and happily, and when these kids who live here see foreigners or people on Boracay coming onto the island, its driving a wedge between them. Instead of being happy and playing with them, my children are actually feeling why can’t we do this also. And it’s like splitting up the community.”
MFB. Yeah its mingling with other people who do not know them, and how about if they are careless? You are mingling with them. So, it’s a very big problem then. And even in the schools, they are all modular, no face to face. I mean if it is safe then why aren’t you allowed to go to school? It’s just the same, why? Because it’s a very big problem. You cannot face other people except if you are together. Maybe if you are the only one there on the beach or swimming without other people, no problem. But they are mingling with these people and how about if they are a carrier? And then they will be affected and then who’s problem is that? Not only them, the whole community will be affected.
BSN. She said if the children are allowed on the island, they should be checked before they come over. They shouldn’t be allowed if there’s any chance of them of being carriers in the first place.
MFB. Yeah because we are talking about the local transmission. It’s okay for the tourists, because if they are really carriers they get that from another place, not from Boracay. The problem only is, if they will bring it here and then some local people will be affected then how can we open? I don’t think so. The national government won’t allow us to open. So, they have to understand that.
BSN. So, the message is you are protecting the residents.
MFB. Yes. Just only one positive case on the island and I don’t think they will allow us to open.
BSN. Many of our plans have had to be cancelled.
MFB. You want to enjoy, but how can we enjoy if we are closed? For them they are only thinking about how to enjoy, but the other side of that enjoyment there’s problem. So, we have to balance it. If I’m not strict I don’t think the government will allow us to open again. I need them to understand why I did it. This is now the fruit of why we are being so strict.
BSN. I believe most residents here are doing their best to try and adhere to the protocols. It’s very difficult sometimes as seven months is a very long time.
MFB. I’m very thankful for their cooperation. Or else I said we cannot open in October. And it’s dangerous, I know there’s people suffering now.
BSN. Pieter, business owner: How can the LGU help with the latest increase in suicides on Boracay and in Malay.
MFB. Actually, based on investigation the suicides are not based on Covid. It’s about their groups, it’s like a cult, so I think we can stop that. Now, anyway they’re already investigating to really identify their groups and members of that cult. Monitor their activities and of course identify them, and to make advice to the parents to monitor also their children, their activity, that’s the only way.
BSN. I interviewed Father Bong last week and he said there’s some sort of Demonic cult, he feels that is doing that. But it’s not only children, some of the attempted suicide victims were in their 50’s. I don’t know, maybe the LGU could conduct a campaign or something against suicides that can help possible victims.
MFB. There was a kickoff last Thursday, and yes, we met them, the group. This group has a very big role you know, and we have to prevent what’s happening now.
BSN. Wilma, shop owner: My husband has a gasoline golf cart style vehicle, but can’t use it on the roads, but gas trikes are allowed. Will he be allowed to use his again soon?
MFB. A golf cart is for the golf course, so it cannot even be registered with the LTO.
BSN. So it’s because they are not LTO registered that they can’t get any special permission to be used on Boracay roads
MFB. Yeah, it’s for golf, so you can only use it in a golf area.
BSN. John, retired businessman: I like to walk along White Beach every day and stop at the local beachfront shops and bars. But it’s very frustrating when the people serving are behind sheets of plastic. The normally wear a mask, a face shield, and are still sheltered behind heavy plastic sheets. Many I spoke to are very uncomfortable with this and believe it would be much better for their health if the fresh sea air could circulate around them better.
MFB. Some uses only screen, then at least air is still coming in but some really plastic because during habagat the strong wind with the rain you cannot really sit down at the bar, that’s really the purpose there.
BSN. I mean the actual bar area. If the bar person serving behind the counter is protected with the three procedures above, and I've got my mask on, we still can’t sit at the bar because of the plastic, so we have to sit in the chairs at tables, and not in the bar area. Is it not unfair for the servers to be surrounded by the plastic sheets, because the virus is captured inside? if you’ve got fresh air and the sea breeze blowing in and circulating, surely it must be healthier?
MFB. The plastic they are putting inside the bar? – Ahh, ok, that’s a requirement by the Department of Health (DOH). It’s for everyone’s protection.
BSN. So, inside an area, inside a bar, the customers wear masks and the staff wear masks, and you’ve got the sea breeze and fresh air, but the DOH deem it safer if everything is covered in plastic?
MFB. I don’t know on how they come to that decision, how in their mind they put like that to cover it. And to not allow the cool air inside. What bar is that?
BSN. Almost all of them. But the bar being referred to is Nigis at Station 2. But it’s not only the bars, but also the shops and restaurants along the front. Staff want the fresh air and breeze in there because they feel more restricted and more in danger being wrapped in a sheet of plastic where the virus can’t get out.
MFB. We will check that in those areas. The health office will check on the workers views also.
BSN. The recent announcement that Boracay will open to tourists from GCQ areas is welcomed by most businesses. It’s a progressive step for tourism in moving forward. Are there any recommendations as to how we can protect the forward trend, and move it towards opening to foreign tourists?
MFB. Yes, I was always reminding almost every day just to follow the protocol, its only four requirements. Physical distancing, wearing a face mask and wearing a face shield on public transport and hand washing. They’re all very important, that’s the protection we need in order for the Covid not to infect you. I am planning to have this advertisement on the radio that could be heard maybe every hour or every two hours to remind everyone, because you know, sometimes we’re only human beings and we forget. So it will be injected into everyone’s mind every time they go out, they will remember. It’s a matter of always reminding the daily information to the people, that it is to be part of their daily core that they have to follow always, every day.