At this writing, the venerable Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives are about to have a Bicameral meeting about what to do with the Php 162 billion pandemic fund provided by the Bayanihan 2 bill. I was informed that Php 10 billion has been earmarked for our tourism industry which is in death throes because of Covid 19. However, four congressmen are determined to finagle the said amount to fund personal projects that will definitely not resuscitate Philippine tourism. Their scheme is all too familiar, so I feel I have to say something.
I wrote the following appeal and sent it to the Tourism Congress, an umbrella organization of private sector tourism stake- holders, created by Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009. This is what I wrote:
HONORABLE SENATORS, PLEASE LISTEN TO THE DESPERATE APPEAL OF TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS, THE SMALL AND MEDIUM TOURISM ENTERPRISES THAT ARE DYING AND THAT NEED TO SURVIVE THIS TERRIBLE PANDEMIC. YOU CAN DO THIS BY RESPECTING AND ABIDING BY THE ESSENCE OF BAYANIHAN 2.
To the dismay of tourism stakeholders, 4 members of the House of Representatives—Congressmen Luis Raymund “Lray” Villafuerte; Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Michael Defensor, Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado —are distorting the spirit of Bayanihan 2 because they want to allocate the Php10 billion meant for the tourism industry, “to finance the programs of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) assisting the recovery of the tourism industry that shall include the provision of tourism infrastructure.” An additional, PHP100 million is being allocated to finance the training and subsidies for tourist guides.
As you know, the TIEZA, formerly PTA (Philippine Tourism Authority) was created during the Marcos administration to serve as the infrastructure arm of a then newly-created Department of Tourism. Today, however, there is no glaring need for new infrastructure that will purportedly assist in “the recovery of the tourism industry. “ In the time of a deadly pandemic, that is not what the tourism industry needs to survive.
My heartfelt thanks to Congressman Rufus Rodriguez of the Centrist Democratic Party, (2 nd district of Cagayan de Oro City) for appealing to the Bicam to give the Php 10 billion to the Department of Tourism and not to TIEZA.
The Dept. of Tourism consulted the Tourism Congress whose members said that what they most need to survive are soft loans from government banks that will help them sustain their businesses, while the sector is comatose. The Php 10 billion should be deposited in the Land Bank so the small and medium tourism enterprises (not the big international chains) can avail of soft loans to tide them over.
The new “tourism infrastructure” envisioned by the 4 abovementioned Congressmen WILL NOT HELP THE TOURISM SECTOR RECOVER from the effects of the pandemic. The tourism industry needs life support. We do not need to spend for new resorts during a pandemic. Tourism does not need new infrastructure nor does it need additional millions to ostensibly train tour guides at a time like this.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, Philippine Tourism NEEDS LIFE SUPPORT NOW.
PLEASE HELP our current DOT Secretary, Berna Romulo Puyat, and the Tourism Congress of the Philippines. They have appealed to the House of Representatives to remove the two ill-intentioned provisions (involving the TIEZA) inserted in Bayanihan 2. It is worrisome that the House version of the Bill hurdled 3rd reading last August 10.
The only hope of Philippine Tourism is the Senate. I pray that during the Bicam the Senators can save the tourism industry from collapsing beyond recovery. Will you allow this to happen to an industry that has contributed 12.7% to the country’s GDP? Please take note that Philippine tourism provides as many as 5.7 million Filipinos a source of decent livelihood.
Congressmen Luis Raymund “Lray” Villafuerte, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Michael Defensor, Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado may argue that the TIEZA infrastructure projects (the Php 10 billion) will employ millions of Filipinos and so will the additional Php 100 million. That is the standard justification for pork barrel projects; there is absolutely no hard evidence for that. Instead, they should save the 5.7 million Filipinos who have held up Philippine Tourism and are now struggling to survive. As a former Secretary of the Department of Tourism (1998- Jan 2001), I strongly appeal to the Senate to thwart the self-serving agenda of those four truculent members of the House.