A congressional leader on Friday appealed to the bicameral committee on the proposed Bayanihan 2 or We Recover as One law to realign P10 billion intended for the tourism sector.
“I am appealing to the panel to allocate the funds to the Department of Tourism (DOT) instead of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA),” Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City said.
“What is needed is not infrastructure by TIEZA but direct assistance to stakeholders in the tourism industry directly hit by Covid-19 such as the transportation sector specially air and sea, small resorts, hotels, travel agencies, and their employees,” he said.
He said millions of employees of these establishments and small enterprises doing business with them like their suppliers have been without jobs and income since quarantine measures were imposed in March.
“It is these workers we need to give priority to in allocating public funds for the tourism sector, not to more road projects leading to faraway tourist destinations. Many of these projects do not have immediate economic impact unlike direct assistance to tourism stakeholders and their employees”, Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, added.
Deputy Speaker for Finance and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte earlier said the P10 billion allocation for tourism infrastructure projects under the House of Representatives version of the Bayanihan 2 will generate around P35 billion in economic activity for the pandemic-hit tourism sector and create thousands of jobs for its displaced workers.
Contrary to claims that infrastructure should not be a priority of the tourism industry at this time, Villafuerte said investments on improving airports, roads and other tourism-related facilities would make this sector competitive with its counterparts in the ASEAN region when economies reopen and travel would be finally allowed under a post-pandemic environment.
Villafuerte thumbed down the proposal of Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose Clemente III to provide “bailouts” or “doleouts” directly to private firms in the tourism sector as this was not allowed under the law.
Clemente’s untenable proposal was backed by Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat.
“First of all, doleouts to private firms are not allowed. These can only be done for workers, that’s why we have the TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers) of the Department of Labor and Employment, the funds for TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the cash-for-work programs,” said Villafuerte.
The House version of the Bayanihan 2 bill provides a P20 billion allocation for cash-for-work programs, P1 billion for the scholarship funds of TESDA, and another P100 million for the training of, and subsidies to, tourist guides.
It also allocates P10 billion to finance the infrastructure programs of TIEZA.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez pointed out that the tourism industry has lost hundreds of billions of pesos due to the pandemic and reviving it will benefit more Filipinos.
The proposed P10-billion funding for the tourism sector is with the DOT under the Senate version of Bayanihan 2.
However, in the House version, the money is allocated to TIEZA.
The Tourism Congress of the Philippines, which groups owners of resorts, travel agencies and other tourism-oriented businesses, is supporting the Senate version.
Other groups supporting the Senate’s Bayanihan 2 bill are the Philippine Travel Agencies Association, Philippine Tour Operators Association, Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Philippines, National Association of Independent Travel Agencies, Region One Travel Agencies Association, and the Davao Association of Tour Operators.
Among other goals, senators want the money to be used to provide soft loans and/or loan guarantees to affected establishments, including those that need to renovate or modernize their facilities, provide funds for employee retraining, marketing and promotions, and digital transformation.
Some industry stakeholders have expressed fears that if appropriated for roads and other tourism infrastructure, the funds could be used for political purposes.