Tourism chief hopeful for restoration of P10B for industry stakeholders in 'Bayanihan' 2

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Tourism chief hopeful for restoration of P10B for industry stakeholders in 'Bayanihan' 2
In this May 2018 file photo, newly appointed Tourism secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat answers questions from the media during a press conference at the Department of Tourism (DOT) office in Makati City yesterday.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Wednesday said she is hopeful that Congress will heed the call of tourism industry stakeholders and restore the amount allocated for working capital loans in the proposed bill for economic stimulus package.

Last Monday, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading its version of the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or 'Bayanihan' 2, which is eyed to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

In House Bill No. 6593’s Section 7, (i), the P10 billion originally allotted for the working capital loans of the tourism industry was realigned to fund the infrastructure programs of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

Its counterpart at the Senate, Senate Bill No.1564, approved on third and final reading late July, however, allocates the P10 billion stimulus package for the tourism industry, which is among the sectors severely affected by the pandemic.

Both bills were titled “An Act Providing for COVID-19 Response and Recovery Interventions and Providing Mechanism to Accelerate the Recovery and Bolster the Resiliency of the Philippine Economy, Providing Funds therefor, and for other purposes.”

“We are one with the tourism industry stakeholders who have expressed their position for a specific allocation for working capital loans through GFIs (government financial institutions) that are set in the proposed 'Bayanihan' 2,” she said her speech at the fourth General Membership meeting of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA).

“The industry needs the working capital loans and not the infrastucture,” she said in mixed English and Filipino.

Puyat said that since DOT has been working closely with the industry’s private sector since March, the department has identified the key issues and concerns that require immediate response from the government and among them is financial assistance in forms ranging from wage subsidy to working capital.

“The DOT’s Tourism Response and Recovery Program has, in fact, identified this and indicated [it] as priority when we started working with the House of Representatives and the Senate for several versions of economic stimulus bills the latest of which is the Bayanihan 2 bill,” she said in a statement last Monday.

The DOT said it is already working with the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, PHILTOA and other tourism organizations and associations to lobby this position to House and Senate leaders.

It is also proposing that P9.5 billion of the P10 billion be allocated to finance the programs of the DOT to fund critically impacted businesses while P500 million will go to various support programs “that would further aid the industry toward the new normal.”

“I hope and pray that we will succeed. May Diyos pa naman, (There is a God)” the tourism chief said.

“Together, we will recover as one. Gaya ng sinasabi ko palagi kay Mr. Cesar Cruz, hindi pa tapos ang laban. May bicam pa, ipaglaban pa natin ang kailangan ng industriya, (Like what I always tell Mr. Cesar Cruz, the fight is not over yet. There’s still the bicam, we will fight for what the industry needs)” she concluded.

A bicameral conference committee, which has representatives from the House and the Senate, works to thresh out differences in versions of a bill that the chambers approve.

The tourism stakeholders' cry

In a separate joint statement read by Philippine Travel Agencies Association president Ritchie Tuaño during the Philippine Tourism Stakeholders Forum on Wednesday afternoon, the stakeholders said they awaited the passage of both the House and Senate bills as a possible solution to their current financial woes.

The tourism stake holders echoed the need to prioritize the working capital loans instead of infrastructure.

"While we agree that infrastructure development is vital to the tourism industry, we believe that the more urgent matter, at this point in time, is ensuring the survival of an industry on the verge of collapse due to the effects of the pandemic. We need direct infusion to the stakeholders in the form of zero to low-interest loans with longer payment periods to allow us to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19,” the statement read.

The group cited that “the tourism industry brought P3 billion in revenues and contributed 12.7% to the gross domestic development as well as employ 5.7 million people directly and benefitting millions more in services.”

It added that it was poised to boost these numbers but, due to the pandemic, the industry suffered a huge decline in international visitors.

From January to July 2020, foreign visitors stood at 1,318,719 which is a decrease of 72.8% from the same period last year that totaled to 4,852,107 arrivals.

Tourism receipts likewise recorded a decrease of 71.5% at P81.05 billion compared to last year’s P284.82 billion.

“As we approach almost 150 days of different stages of community quarantine, tourism establishments for the most part, have not been allowed to operate resulting in virtually no revenues the past five and half months with many stakeholders choosing to close their businesses or considering to do so in the next few weeks or months,” the statement read.

It cited that while the government implemented various amelioration programs, the industry got little share “in contrast to its overall contribution to the national economy.”

In view of this, the tourism stakeholders are urging the Bicameral Committee to reexamine the provisions of the HB 6953.

“We look forward to the normalization of travel and tourism so we can once again prove to be a vital cog of the Philippine economy once more,” it said.

Puyat also said she looks forward to working with the tourism stakeholders in the gradual reopening of the country’s tourism sites.

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