MANILA – A party-list lawmaker on Friday said the allocation of the PHP10-billion fund to Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) in the Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) bill will provide employment to thousands of workers in the provinces.

Kabayan Party-list Rep. Ron Salo made the statement as he called out tourism stakeholders and business owners opposing the proposed allocation to stop prioritizing their own interests over the needs of the tourism industry and the overall economic recovery of the country.

“It is unfair for capitalists and big industry players to take advantage of their network and connections and pretend to be concerned about the industry when none of the consultations conducted by the Department of Tourism (DOT) involved workers, employees, and small industry players,” Salo said.

“To speak for the industry workers, trisikad (pedicab) drivers, van drivers and operators, carinderia (food stall) owners, and tour guides reeks of elitism and hypocrisy. How could you possibly know their needs and how you can help them when you never asked for their opinion?” he added.

Salo said that dole-outs for private firms are not allowed by law, which is why additional funds were allocated to government financial institutions (GFIs), that can in turn easily give micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) access to assistance, including those belonging to the tourism industry.

“The problem with being so detached from the needs of the ones who were severely affected by pandemic is that you forget that, while you may have suffered great loss in your revenue, others are losing their lives and their livelihoods. The 18th Congress cannot afford to let that happen,” he said.

Aside from the PHP10-billion fund for tourism infrastructure, the bill also seeks to allocate around PHP51 billion for GFIs, such as the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), for their respective credit programs to save distressed MSMEs in the hardest-hit sectors in the country.

Holistic approach for tourism recovery

House tourism committee chair Sol Aragones said the provisions in Bayanihan 2 for the tourism sector offer a holistic approach towards the recovery of the pandemic-hit industry, with both tourism infrastructure and working capital playing equal importance.

Aragones said that members of Congress on Tuesday met with members of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) to explain that the PHP10-billion fund for tourism-related infrastructure projects would not deprive the sector of access to financial assistance.

She stressed that tourism enterprises would also be provided with wider access to credit facilities.

“Pinaliwanag po natin na holistic ang approach ng House version ng Bayanihan 2, at iginiit namin na yung loans naman ay ma-avail nila dun sa PHP51 billion allocation to GFIs. In fact, dahil dito, hindi lang limited to PHP10 billion ang pwedeng makuha ng industriya (We explained to them that the House version of Bayanihan 2 offers a holistic approach, and we stressed that the loans can still be availed of under the PHP51 billion allocation to GFIs. In fact, because of this, the industry would receive more than PHP10 billion),” Aragones said.

“Congress recognizes the invaluable contributions of the tourism sector to our economy, and understand that helping it survive this pandemic is crucial if we want our economy to bounce back,” said Aragones.

Investing in tourism infrastructure, according to Aragones, also has a multiplier effect that not only helps the tourism sector in the medium and long-term, but generates employment and much-needed economic activity in areas that are dependent on tourism but have been severely affected by worldwide travel restrictions.

Philippines has weak tourism infrastructure

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel highlighted the need for the government to prioritize tourism infrastructure in its effort to rebuild the tourism sector.

Citing the performance of the country in the 2019 World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Pimentel said the Philippines has weaker infrastructure than other key tourist destinations in the Southeast Asian Region.

While the overall competitiveness ranking of the Philippines improved four places from 79th (out of 136) to 75th (out of 140 countries) last year, its tourism competitiveness ranking is still lower than those of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Singapore. The Philippines is only higher in ranking than Laos and Cambodia.

The index measures the performance of 140 countries according to their tourism competitiveness in infrastructure, the business enabling environment, travel and tourism policy and enabling condition, and natural and cultural resources.

Pimentel noted that the Department of Tourism is opposing the allocation of funds to put up the much-needed infrastructure.

He urged DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat to show Congress “a better plan to rebuild the tourism sector” if she and other tourism stakeholders refuse to fund tourism infrastructure facilities.

“It is unfortunate that Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat herself does not want to prioritize the infrastructure needs of most of the beautiful sites in the far-flung provinces in the country,” Pimentel said.

He said most of the tourist spots in the provinces lack access roads, have no comfort rooms, and lack other necessary facilities.

“I hope our Tourism Secretary will listen to the real tourism sector about their problems and not just to the group of travel agencies or resort owners,” he said. (PNA)