Tourism groups: Keep P10-B bailout fund in Bayanihan 2
“Who will use those infrastructure when we’re all dead?”
The Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) asked the question on Thursday after House leaders led by Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. insisted on deleting a P10-billion tourism bailout facility from its version of the second Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or Bayanihan 2.
The Senate had approved a P140-billion package ahead of the House of Representatives, which passed a P162-billion appropriation.
The Senate provided the P10-billion fund primarily as a credit facility for small and medium scale businesses severely affected by the pandemic. It also allocated funds for COVID-19 testing centers in major tourist destinations as part of the safety and health protocols under the “new normal.”
But in the House version, the money was allocated to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza).
Senators and representatives are to hold a bicameral conference committee meeting on Friday to reconcile the two versions of the bill.
In a statement it posted on its Facebook page, TCP questioned the House leadership’s continuing defense of the reallocation of the bailout fund to tourism infrastructure.
But Villafuerte said people needed disposable income before they could even make travel plans or take a vacation.
“That’s why we in Congress allocated P10 billion for tourism infrastructure under Tieza, which was created by law to invest for the future and presently create jobs and stimulate the economy,” Villafuerte told the Inquirer.
“Infrastructure has a multiplier effect,” he added. “For some stakeholders to say they don’t need infrastructure at this time is illogical.”
TCP said the way the fund was being defended by the House leadership “is curious.”
“What is the urgency with infrastructure at this time? 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’re all dead?” it added.
The group said funds for tourism may be added in the national budget but that would be for 2021. “The need for assistance is now. We might not even make it to next year,” TCP said.
Villafuerte said the various tourism enterprises could take out low-interest loans of even more than P10 billion from a P51-billion allocation for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the House version of Bayanihan 2.
But TCP said the tourism sector would be “lumped in with every other industry to fight for our share of that amount whereas the P10 billion is already dedicated for tourism.”
The government-recognized tourism umbrella group is leading the campaign to restore the P10-billion government aid to tourism enterprises battered by the travel slump and lockdowns cause by the pandemic.
“Please help the tourism industry which employs 5 million people, please help the 500,000 tourism enterprises which are under the MSMEs,” Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) President Cesar Cruz appealed to lawmakers in a press conference on Wednesday.
“We do not need infrastructure at this time. Before this pandemic happened, we have enough infrastructures already in place,” Cruz said.
Philippine Travel Agencies Association president Ritchie Tuano said the tourism industry needed direct infusion in the form of zero to low-interest loans with longer payment periods to allow stakeholders to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.
He said what was “more urgent” at this time was “ensuring the survival of an industry on the verge of collapse due to the effects of the pandemic.”
Tuano pointed out that after almost 150 days of community quarantine, most tourism establishments have not been allowed to operate, resulting in virtually no revenues with many enterprises choosing to close their businesses or considering to do so.
He said the tourism industry got only a “little share” of the various government amelioration programs compared to its big contribution to the national economy.
“It is about time we get the vital financial aid from government for the industry to survive,” Tuano said.
‘Not really fun’
Hotel Sales and Marketing Association president Christine Ibaretta said only House members were happy with their version of the Bayanihan 2 bill.
“There are no funds allotted for us in tourism. Isn’t that sad?” she said. “It wouldn’t really be fun in the Philippines if the stakeholders will not have the funds and the means to continue on living. Infra is not the answer, but livelihood package so that all of us can survive.”
TCP president Jose Clemente III, citing Department of Tourism (DOT) data, said tourism receipts from March to July this year fell to P6.9 billion compared to P196.4 billion during the same period last year, or a 96.5 percent drop.
From January to July 2020, international visitors to the Philippines totaled about 1.32 million, a 72.8 percent drop from the 4.85 million arrivals during the same period in 2019. Visitor receipts for the same period amounted P81.05 billion, a 71.5 percent decrease from last year’s earnings of P284.82 billion.
During a meeting on Wednesday, Clemente said Villafuerte was unmoved by their appeal and even threatened to allocate the P10 billion to other government agencies, “if you don’t want it.”
Other tourism sector representatives at the meeting who asked not to be identified said they were turned off by Villafuerte’s “take it or leave it” threat, saying such an attitude was not going to help the economy recover from the pandemic.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat supported the TCP’s position, saying the industry needed “working capital loans, not infrastructure.”
“We are one with the tourism industry stakeholders who have expressed their position for a specific allocation for working capital loans through government financial institutions that are set in the proposed Bayanihan Act 2,” Puyat said in her message during Philtoa’s virtual general membership meeting on Wednesday.
“We are working with the TCP, Philtoa, and all the different tourism organizations and associations to lobby our position to Congress and to our Senate leaders. I hope and pray that we will succeed. May Diyos pa naman. (There is still a God),” she added.
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also supported the tourism leaders, urging the bicameral conference committee to return the bailout fund to the DOT.
Rodriguez said “millions of employees” in the tourism sector, as well as suppliers and small enterprises doing business with them, had been jobless 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,” the House constitutional amendments chair said.
No basis for complaints
Villafuerte lashed out at some of the tourism industry representatives, insisting that the House did not “realign” the P10 billion to Tieza in the first place.
“We actually have put in more in the House version to help the tourism industry. The complaints of only a few stakeholders have no basis,” the Camarines Sur lawmaker said.
“Those saying this are probably only promoting or are located in tourist destinations that have airports, ports, good road access, and others. What about those beautiful potential locations that lack infra but have world-class natural features?” Villafuerte said.
“To those asking to put in P10 billion under DOT, please ask them for what purpose?” he said.
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