DOT backs tourism stakeholders call for direct funding support in Bayanihan 2

The Department of Tourism (DOT), along with other tourism stakeholders, are calling on lawmakers to reconsider the amendments made in the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the Bayanihan 2 measure to directly fund critically impacted tourism businesses rather than simply allocating the bulk of funds for tourism infrastructure projects. 

Tourism chief Bernadette-Romulo Puyat (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Congress is yet to pass the second tranche of the economic stimulus package which seeks to mitigate the economic losses incurred by of COVID-19 pandemic however, various tourism stakeholders decried the realignment of funds for the sector as the House of Representatives approved on Monday on its third and final reading House Bill 6953, which allocates P10 billion to finance the programs of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). 

An amount of P100 million also goes to finance the training and subsidies for tourist guides. 

Its counterpart measure, Senate Bill 1564, also allocated the same amount to assist tourism-related businesses hit hard by the crisis. 

But tourism chief Bernadette Romulo-Puyat pointed out the industry’s private stakeholders’ access to financial assistance ranging from wage subsidy to working capital has been tagged foremost to current needs.

She said that the DOT’s Tourism Response and Recovery Program (TRRP) has, in fact, identified all concerns from the tourism stakeholders and indicated it as a priority when the department started working with the House of Representatives and the Senate for several versions of economic stimulus bills, the latest of which is the Bayanihan 2 bill.

“We are one with the tourism industry stakeholders who have expressed their position for a specific allocation for working capital loans are set in the proposed Bayanihan Act 2. Direct assistance to the tourism industry is what the other countries as well did, to ensure its expedient recovery as well,” she said. 

Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose Clemente III also made the same appeal to lawmakers to reconsider the budget alignment as the stakeholders need financial assistance for business continuity more than infrastructure at this point. 

“We have been virtually shut down for close to 150 days with no sources of income. Infrastructure development can resume as we head into normalcy but for now, the priority of stakeholders is financial assistance in the various forms of what is in the provisions of the bill,” he said. 

In a joint statement, various tourism stakeholders from different associations also expressed their frustration over the matter, noting they have been consistent in their request since the pandemic erupted.

“Who will use those infra when the industry collapses? The industry is hanging on by a thin thread. We are now approaching 150 days of not being able to work, yet we have gotten close to nothing in assistance. As an industry that provided more than P3 trillion to the economy, provided 5.7 million jobs and 12.7% to GDP (gross domestic product), this is all we get? P10 billion na nga lang, kukunin pa?,” the group said in total dismay. “While our neighboring countries are intent to support their tourism stakeholders, ours is more intent on “building” infrastructure. For who?”

With this, Puyat has already submitted a 25-page position paper to several senators and House lawmakers “earnestly appealing” for the mandates given to the DOT under Section 3(ff) of the House Bill 6953 and Section 3 (gg) of the Senate Bill 1564 to be reconciled, in such a way that it will assist critically impacted businesses that are tourism enterprises, including tourism oriented barangay micro business enterprises, or other members of the informal sector in any of the following programs:

  • Low interest loans or issuances of loan guarantees through GFIs (government financial institutions) with terms of up to five years for maintenance and operating expenses;
  • Credit facilities through GFIs (government financial institutions) for upgrading, rehabilitation, or modernization of current establishments or facilities to be compliant with the new health and safety standards;
  • In partnership with the LGU (local government unit) and DOH (Department of Health) and/or private entities, establish COVID-19 testing centers in tourist destinations as identified by the DOT, to stimulate tourism and generate employment. 

The DOT said government financial institutions such as the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) will administer loans for DOT but subject to guidelines of the department, provided that the loan interventions implemented will be exclusively for accredited tourism enterprises, including small-scale tourism enterprises accredited by LGUs. 

“The amendment or reconciled version is being proposed to highlight the fact that these mandates were identified by the stakeholders as the most immediate and crucial responses that will help the tourism industry cope and eventually recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she emphasized. 

“We are therefore proposing that of the P10 billion, P9.5 billion be allocated to finance the programs of the DOT to fund critically impacted businesses while P500 million will go to various support programs that would further aid the industry toward the new normal,” she added, citing the DOT has been working closely with the tourism private sector since the start of the pandemic and has identified key issues and concerns that require immediate response from the government. 

According to Puyat, Philippine tourism, being a labor intensive sector, is suffering the most from the crisis, noting the imposition of travel restrictions and community quarantine measures has impacted not only large scale tourism businesses, but Micro, Small, and Medium Tourism Enterprises (MSMEs). 

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) losses of P77.5 to P156 billion in the tourism sector, accounting to 0.4 to 0.8 percent of the GDP. The figures also translate to a reduced employment by about 33,800 to 56,000.

“We affirm therefore that at this stage of the crisis where we are now looking at the recovery and resiliency of the industry, our priority based on consultations with the stakeholders are fiscal and monetary measures supporting tourism directly. These will range from economic relief to tourism businesses, rather than an infrastructure component which is not the priority at the moment,” the tourism secretary said.