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Philippines lifts threat to shut down second top resort

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Manila (AFP)

A threat to close a second world-famous but pollution-threatened beach in the Philippines was averted Thursday, drawing a sigh of relief from the local beleaguered tourism industry.

President Rodrigo Duterte shuttered the white-sand resort of Boracay island for six months last year, calling it a "cesspool", and his government had since threatened to do the same with the El Nido resort.

Boracay regained its old beauty in a government-led cleanup that also left thousands of people out of work, and hotels and restaurants in limbo.

The environment department said Thursday that instead of a Boracay-style approach, it would limit tourism activities at El Nido's most polluted sections while pursuing its rehabilitation.

Swimmers will be banned from two busy areas of El Nido town, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told AFP, after high levels of coliform bacteria spread by faeces were found there.

But the spots will remain transport hubs for the resort's main tourist activity, island-hopping.

"If you shut those places off, island hopping -- which is the life of El Nido -- will also be affected, and we don't want that to happen," Antiporda said.

The government has started cleaning up the beaches, he said, and vowed to close down establishments that violate regulations on waste disposal and building restrictions.

The decision brought relief to tourism businesses that had faced growing scrutiny following the closure of Boracay -- where some establishments were found flushing raw sewage straight into the sea.

"We are quite happy that there will be no total closure. That means that as long as establishments are compliant, they can continue to operate," Jose Clemente of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines told AFP.

Antiporda said a government committee was also reviewing the state of the country's other major tourist spots, including the surfing haven of Siargao and the island resort of Coron, near El Nido.

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