P10 B for tourism infrastructure, not for enterprises — Villafuerte

Published August 13, 2020, 4:40 PM

by Hanah Tabios

The lead author in the House of Representatives of the proposed Bayanihan To Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 2 measure has maintained that the P10 billion financial assistance to the tourism sector will go towards infrastructure development and not for losing tourism enterprises. 

This was according to Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose Clemente III during Wednesday’s Philippine Tourism Stakeholders Forum, who cited that Deputy Speaker for finance and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte was firm on the budget realignment as the lawmakers felt that infrastructure development would be a better stimulus to the economy. 

The issue surfaced after the House realigned the supposed P10 billion budget allocation for the Department of Tourism (DOT) under House Bill No. 6953, which was originally allotted for working capital loans of the tourism industry. 

Its counterpart however, Senate Bill No. 1564, allocates the same amount in line with the industry’s needs. 

On Tuesday, Clemente, along with the DOT officials, met with the House Committee on Tourism led by Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones to discuss their concerns about the issue. The meeting was also attended by Villafuerte and Bohol Rep. Edgar Chatto. 

He said Villafuerte explained that the decision to realign the budget will generate jobs which in turn will create disposable income.

This, despite hammering the point that building more infrastructure is not the immediate need identified by the stakeholders to recover from the massive losses incurred by the ongoing global health crisis. 

“We made the point clear that is not the immediate need of the industry. What we need now is financial assistance and when you come to think of it, P10 billion is a drop in the bucket,” Clemente said, who is a long-time industry player appointed to head the umbrella organization of all the private stakeholders in the tourism industry. 

Clemente said the decision took them by surprise last week as this was not the original plan that was laid out to the lawmakers during the early consultations on the crafting of the several versions of the bill until arriving at the latest Bayanihan 2 measure.

“We were taken aback late last week when we were informed that the allocation of the P10 billion that was supposed to be applied or allocated for tourism was now allocated for infrastructure development through TIEZA (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority),” he added. 

In the same forum, some industry players, from transportation, hotel, and travel and tours industry, also questioned the urgency of funding infrastructure at this time when the foremost needs identified for the recovery of the industry are direct assistance ranging from low interest loans as working capital, credit facilities, to building of COVID-19 testing facilities in key tourism areas earlier identified by the DOT.  

Cesar Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) said: “Our infrastructure is okay for now. No specific projects have been mentioned with regard to what will be built and more importantly, who will use those infrastructure when we are all dead.”

Cruz, in fact, noted that 40 percent out of the 70 percent tourism stakeholders categorized as Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) have already filed for permanent closure since April amid massive losses.

But rather than considering their pleas, Clemente said the alternative given to them was that P51 billion budget allocation will be made available to SMEs. 

“But we also explained to them that we will be lumped along with other industries that are also seeking financial assistance,” he said. 

“We also made the point that in the past few months, even with the social amelioration programs that came about, a majority of industry players or stakeholders were still unable to avail themselves of financial assistance,” he added.

P190 billion losses from March to July 

With no revenue coming in amid continued border restrictions, Clemente also emphasized that the industry has now lost around P190 billion in terms of tourism revenue since the start of the lockdown in March until July, as compared to the figures recorded in the same period last year. 

The DOT was supposedly aiming to reach another all-time high tourism success this year however, the unprecedented pandemic led to a standstill. 

According to Clemente, the compiled statistics from DOT recorded P196 billion in revenue in March to July 2019. But this year, the tourism industry recorded about P6.9 billion tourism revenue. 

“Meaning, we were pretty much P190 billion pesos lower than last year. We are very down as far as the tourist revenues are concerned,” he said. 

“That’s why we are advocating that our stakeholders get in touch with our Senators to make our sentiments felt and that we need to have financial assistance for the industry not unless we will give up and just collapse,” he added.

Fighting as one 

In a separate forum, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat could not also hide her frustration but she remained consistent that the DOT, along with other tourism stakeholders, will continue to fight and recover as one. 

This, as the department has been closely working with the industry’s private sector since March to hear and relay their key issues to seek immediate response from the government. 

“I hope and pray that we will succeed. May Diyos pa naman, (There is a God)” the tourism chief said.

“Together, we will recover as one. Gaya ng sinasabi ko palagi kay Mr. Cesar Cruz, hindi pa tapos ang laban. May bicam pa, ipaglaban pa natin ang kailangan ng industriya, (Like what I always tell to Mr. Cesar Cruz, the fight is not over yet. There’s still the bicam, we will fight for what the industry needs)” she added. 

In a separate joint statement, the stakeholders of the various sectors in the Philippine tourism industry also urged the bicameral conference committee to reexamine the provisions of the House Bill No. 6953, specifically the unfriendly provisions identified by DOT and tourism stakeholders. 

“While we agree that infrastructure development is vital to the tourism industry, we believe that the more urgent matter, at this point in time, is ensuring the survival of an industry on the verge of collapse due to the effects of the pandemic,” it said. 

“It is about time we get the vital financial aid from the government for the industry to survive,” the group concluded.