Berna Romulo Puyat isn’t wavering. Will she save the tourism industry?

Published November 17, 2021, 12:04 AM

by Anna Mae Lamentillo

NIGHT OWL

Anna Mae Lamentillo

One of the most adversely affected sectors during this pandemic is the tourism industry. Leisure travel was totally prohibited when the nationwide lockdown was announced in March 2020.

For Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, it was heartbreaking to see establishments close and tourism workers losing their jobs, especially coming after a record-breaking year in terms of tourist arrivals in 2019 — 8.26 million foreign tourists and 110 million domestic trips registered.

Sec. Berna told me, “For all the years I spent in the service, nothing ever came close to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew we had a lot of work to do and that we had to focus on keeping the industry afloat during the pandemic and prepare for its eventual recovery.”

But she adds that the pandemic also paved the way for new discoveries, lessons, and innovations. What she wants is to make sure that the tourism industry will eventually stand strong amidst unexpected challenges that may arise, and for the next generation to inherit a better and brighter future.

Her father reminds her to always uphold honor and integrity in public service, and to never lose public trust.

Despite the challenges, Sec. Berna says she is grateful to President Duterte for choosing her to lead the Department of Tourism (DOT). “It is such a wonderful job to market the Philippines because of our many natural wonders, as well as the hospitality of the Filipino people.”
 
Destined for public service

Sec. Berna has been in public service for more than two decades already. But she never dreamed of it even if she grew up in a family of public servants. Her father, statesman Alberto G. Romulo, held various positions in government. But what she wanted was to be a wife, a mom, and a teacher at the University of the Philippines.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat is determined to build a more resilient tourism industry despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

She achieved all three. She became an Economics lecturer in UP Diliman, where she graduated cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in Economics. She also became a wife and a mother.

Unfortunately, her husband, Dave Puyat, passed away after suffering a heart attack in 2010. Sec. Berna describes it as the most devastating moment in her life. At that time, she was already the Undersecretary of Gender and Development in the Department of Agriculture (DA). She threw herself into work to cope with the loss and found comfort in fellow women.

She narrates that one uplifting experience was during a visit to a farming community. She shared her loss to women farmers. She told them that she understands how it feels to be a widow and a breadwinner at the same time. The women all cried with her in sympathy.

Perhaps because public service runs in her blood, Sec. Berna has always been drawn to the people. As DA Undersecretary, she immersed herself in communities of women and indigenous farmers to experience firsth and their practices, culture, and challenges. By developing programs that promote local produce, heirloom rice, and organic food products, she helped open doors of opportunity and expanded the markets of our farmers and agri-based enterprises.

As DOT Secretary, she recognizes the importance of tourism workers, who she considers the heart of the industry. This is why she ensured that tourism workers will be among the priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine. She stressed that the immunization of the tourism workforce will help in the recovery of the industry, thereby bringing back jobs and livelihood that are dependent on tourism.

She shares, “When I see that I have contributed to improving the life of an individual, a community, or a sector, that gives me fulfillment as a public servant.”
 
Valuing the people around her

For Sec Berna, her greatest mentors remain to be her parents – former Senator Alberto Romulo and Lovely Tecson.

Even with her long years in government, her greatest mentors remain to be her parents. Sec. Berna said, her mother, Lovely Tecson, inspires her to always be strong, and to balance both being a mother and a public servant; while her father reminds her to always uphold honor and integrity in public service, and to never lose public trust.

Sec Berna worked harder during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the tourism industry afloat and prepare for its eventual recovery.

While she credits her family for defining her guiding principles, which helped her in facing the challenges of the pandemic, she also recognizes the contribution of the people she works with.

She takes pride in the men and women at DOT and how they are giving their best given the situation. She is also grateful for the unwavering support of all tourism stakeholders and workers, who she describes as “the pillar that kept us standing amid this difficult time.”

These are the very same people who inspire Sec. Berna and make her confident that, after this pandemic, the Philippines will continue to showcase its world-renowned destinations with the most remarkable travel experience for every tourist. She ensures that DOT’s recovery programs would not just support its stakeholders, but also improve the industry towards a better normal.

 
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