Ranking House of Representatives members have followed through with the provision in the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act to give P10 billion in stimulus funds to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel and Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo believe that keeping the P10-billion allocation with TIEZA is the right move, as opposed to calls to have it realigned to the Department of Tourism (DoT).
“It is unfortunate that Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat herself does not want to prioritize the infrastructure needs of most of the beautiful sites in the far-flung provinces in the country,” Pimentel, a House deputy speaker, said in a statement Friday.
“The Department of Tourism is opposing the allocation of funds to put up much-needed infrastructure. It’s as if they do not care for the very provinces where the tourism sites are located,” he said.
Salo, who heads the House contingent to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), agreed with his colleague from Mindanao.
“The P10-billion fund should really go to TIEZA to support tourism-infrastructure projects and programs of the government. We should listen to most economists who are convinced that spending it on infrastructure yields a greater return to the economy, particularly at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a text message.
“Spending it in infrastructure creates jobs, boosts the construction and related industries, and allows us to build the needed infrastrasture to make our tourism more competitive and to develop more tourism destinations to attract more tourists, both local and foreign,” explained Salo.
The House had approved on third and final reading t the Bayanihan 2 bill or House Bill (HB) No.6953. Under the pending P162-billion stimulus package, it is TIEZA that would get the P10 billion.
However, the Senate’s version of Bayanihan 2 –which is reportedly being backed by tourism stakeholders like tourism-oriented businesses and travel agencies — places the funding under DoT.
As such, the final destination of this P10 billion could potentially become a sticking point in the congressmen and senators’ upcoming bicameral conference committee hearing on the much-needed measure.
Pimentel urged Puyat to show Congress “a better plan to rebuild the tourism sector” if she and other tourism stakeholders refuse to fund tourism infrastructure facilities.
“Most of the tourist spots in the provinces lack access roads, have no comfort rooms, and lack facilities. If we do not fund tourism infrastructure, we will be completely left behind by other countries,” he pointed out.
Citing the performance of the country in the 2019 World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Pimentel said the Philippines lagged behind in Southeast Asia in terms of tourism infrastructure.
While the overall competitiveness ranking of the Philippines improved four places from 79th to 75th (out of 140 countries) last year, its tourism competitiveness ranking is still lower than those of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Singapore. The Philippines is only higher in ranking than Laos and Cambodia.
“We should take the current challenges as an opportunity to prepare our tourism industry to be more competitive and developed to ensure that when things get back to normal, we would be able to benefit more Filipinos reliant on this sector,” Salo said.
“This will also ensure that our tourism sector, with all our beautiful natural spots, will be able to contribute more to Philippine economy,” he added.