REOPENING BORACAY. Photo shows Undersecretary Anthony Gerard Gonzales (holding microphone) leading other officials in discussing with Malay town officials the possible reopening of Boracay amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Gonzales on Thursday (May 20, 2021) says the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas will help the LGU in its quest to again welcome visitors into the tourist island. (Photo courtesy of OPAV)

CEBU CITY – The Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) has vowed to assist the municipal government of Malay in Aklan province in its effort to reopen Boracay Island to tourists.

Undersecretary Anthony Gerard Gonzales, who represented OPAV in engaging with the local officials of Malay, said the national government will support the local government unit's (LGU) bid to again welcome visitors to the famous island destination.

“Boracay is a tourism jewel of this country. I don’t see any reason we can’t manage the situation of the island. The national government is there to support. We are willing to work with you,” a statement released on Thursday quoted him as telling Malay officials in a recent meeting.

Boracay drew about 2 million tourists in 2019. Gonzales said it reopened in October last year and tourists started to trickle in.

However, Boracay again became a ghost town due to the suspension of air travel from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) rose in the National Capital Region and other areas of the country last March.

“If we can learn to live with Covid-19, we can open Boracay to tourists again,” Gonzales said.

He said the national government is committed to help LGUs, particularly the municipality of Malay, to safely reopen the island and manage the Covid-19 situation there.

He cited Cebu’s model in restarting the economy through the tourism industry, citing it as the first province in the Visayas to reopen its borders to local tourists amid the lingering threat of Covid-19.

Gonzales believes this could also be done in Boracay as long as systems and processes for Covid-19 community response are in place.

Tourism can remain “business as usual” if local leaders can very well manage any possible surge in Covid-19 cases, he said as he urged local chief executives to be more forward-looking and embrace the fact that communities now have to live safely amid the virus threat to be able to restore livelihoods.

Gonzales said LGUs must think about how they can restore economies to prevent further incidents of hunger, crime and suicide which are among the negative social effects of the pandemic. (PNA)