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Bohol trip issue haunts DOT as pricey branding gimmicks flagged

/ 10:13 PM September 23, 2021
Bohol trip issue haunts DOT as pricey branding gimmicks flagged

Bernadette Romulo-Puyat. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — The controversial Bohol trip of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat with the Belo family earlier this year was brought up during a budget hearing on Thursday as a senator questioned the agency’s “expensive” branding “gimmicks.”

During the hearing of a Senate finance subcommittee, Senator Imee Marcos asked Department of Tourism (DOT) officials about the supposedly P1.5-billion budget for the agency’s branding campaign program.

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“Do you think that this huge amount should really be given to international marketing when we are on everyone’s red alert infection list?” Marcos said.

“How can you justify a P1.5-billion budget at a time when the Philippines cannot even receive tourists? We are barely welcome in any country given our rates of infection and we are embarking on this exceedingly expensive branding campaign,” she added.

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“Spend a little bit on vaccination [of] tourism workers first before we embark on these branding gimmicks,” Marcos further said.

READ: More than 50 percent of tourism workers vaccinated vs COVID-19 — DOT

Puyat, however, clarified that the DOT did not receive that amount for its branding programs.

According to the DOT chief, the agency’s budget for branding was reduced by P1 billion in 2021.

The P1 billion was transferred as allocation for programs under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, according to DOT Assistant Secretary Howard Uyking.

The remaining P400 million, Uyking noted, went to domestic promotions.

Still, Marcos was puzzled as to why such an amount was allocated for tourism branding campaigns when lockdowns restrict travels at the time.

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The senator also raised the issue regarding Puyat’s Bohol trip with Scarlet Snow Belo and her parents earlier this year, saying there has been a “great deal of criticism” against it.

“[There’s] alleged double standards and failure to enforce IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) rules and other health protocols,” Marcos said.

Puyat explained that when they took the trip to Bohol, the IATF had allowed travel with “no age restrictions.”

READ: Puyat visit in Bohol with 6-yr-old Scarlet Snow complies with health protocols — DOT

“We’re always pushing for travel with no age restrictions because Filipinos travel as a family,” the secretary added.

She also clarified the picture showing her and Scarlet Snow without their masks on.

“I can assure you that we were wearing our masks and face shield the whole time, that was only one picture with Scarlet, and we were even one meter apart, but in all the other pictures, we were all wearing our masks and face shields,” Puyat said.

Sense of priority

Meanwhile, Senator Nancy Binay flagged what she said was the lacking “sense of priority” on rules with tourism as compared to the physical opening of schools.

“I don’t agree doon sa pinu-push ng DOT na we will allow children to travel but we don’t allow them to go to school?…Yung sense of priority natin nawawala [Our sense of priority is lost],” Binay said.

“And then I saw pictures [of the] Loboc Choir, which are kids, they’re performing in front of Scarlet Snow Belo when those kids cannot even go to school, but they can perform in front of tourists,” she pointed out.

Earlier this week, President Rodrigo Duterte approved pilot face-to-face classes in areas with minimal risk for COVID-19.

READ: Duterte OKs pilot face-to-face classes in areas with minimal risk for COVID-19

DOT budget

After more than three hours of deliberations, the finance subcommittee approved the DOT’s proposed P3.7-billion budget for 2021.

“Tourism, as you all know, is the principal engine of growth. We want to make sure that tourism gets the support that the government should be giving it,” said Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the subcommittee.

The DOT’s budget was endorsed to the Senate plenary, pending the submission of some documents requested by the senators.

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