The House leadership has assured tourism business leaders this week of the chamber’s unequivocal support for this once booming industry, as the chamber has set aside a considerable part of its just-approved bill on the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 for the recovery of this sector that is one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Tuesday morning meeting via Zoom, Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte told Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III and other industry leaders of the commitment of the House leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to help bring this industry back on its feet soon enough by way of  successive funding support from the chamber for a series of stimulus programs for the sector.

Villafuerte said legislators felt the need to provide infrastructure funds to TIEZA.

“The House leadership’s commitment to the swift recovery of domestic tourism industry is in full support of President Duterte’s call in his 5th SONA (State of the Nation Address) for Filipinos to help boost the domestic economy by travelling locally,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte explained to Clemente and other industry leaders during the virtual meeting that Bayanihan 2, of which the CamSur solon is the lead proponent in the House, provides for a P162-billion stimulus package to aid the various  sectors hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

This includes a P51-billion outlay for government financial institutions or GFIs—the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP)—for their various credit programs intended for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) along with transport and tourism stakeholders affected by the pandemic.

On top of such stimulus funds for tourism and other sectors, he said House Bill (HB) 6953 or Bayanihan 2 provides for a P10-billion allocation for the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), which is the infrastructure arm of the Department of Tourism (DOT), “for infrastructure projects aimed at beefing up the country’s tourism infrastructure for the long haul and creating thousands of jobs for displaced industry workers in the immediate term.”

The House unanimously approved Bayanihan 2 on third and final reading by a 242-0 vote on Monday while the Senate earlier approved its own version, which entails a smaller stimulus package of P140 billion. There is no counterpart  P10-billion allocation for TIEZA in the Senate version (Senate Bill or SB 1564).

“The House leadership under Speaker Cayetano has assured tourism industry leaders led by Mr. Clemente of its unequivocal support for the speedy recovery of this once booming sector, which is among the sectors worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” Villafuerte said.

During Tuesday’s meeting via Zoom, Villafuerte clarified industry concerns that a P10-billion allocation for the tourism sector was supposedly realigned to the TIEZA, and told them “the tourism-related funds under the House-approved version of Bayanihan 2 is but the initial stimulus outlay for the recovery of this vital sector, as there would be further allocations for the DOT and the tourism industry in the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021, along with similar allotments in the two House-approved stimulus bills—HB 6709 or the P1.5-trillion Covid-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act and HB 6815 or the P1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) bill.”  

Villafuerte and Cayetano are the lead authors of HB 6709 or CURES, which proposes a continuing P500-billion budget yearly for the next three years for infrastructure projects in the health, education, agriculture, livelihood, information technology or IT and tourism (HEAL IT) sectors.

“Hence, there is no budget realignment whatsoever because no allocation for the tourism sector has actually been approved yet, let alone realigned for another purpose, as the two chambers of the Congress still have to come up with the final or consolidated version of Bayanihan 2 for submission to President Duterte,” he said.

In fact, in a separate statement, Villafuerte has expressed the hope that the would-be bicameral conference (bicam) committee could convene and wrap up early the final Bayanihan 2 bill, so it could be submitted to the President before September.   

Republic Act (RA) No. 9593 created TIEZA in 2009 with a mandate to establish centers of tourism development nationwide, and its infrastructure outlay sourced yearly from travel tax collections. 

“So such funding for TIEZA projects would generate badly needed economic activity in the tourism sites.”

Among the tourism establishments that TIEZA is managing are the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel in Ifugao, Balicasag Island Dive Resort in Bohol and the Club Intramuros Golf Course in Manila. 

Given that the tourism slump is expected to continue until such time that a vaccine becomes available and the pandemic threat subsides, Villafuerte said that legislators felt the need to provide infrastructure funds to TIEZA for its long-term infrastructure program, as the sharp drop in tourism revenues and travel tax collections would mean this state-run firm is looking at scant resources till the coming year to finance its planned projects.

He pointed out that infrastructure investments via TIEZA would provide a big boost to the industry this early—even amid a drop in tourist traffic—in creating a lot of jobs for displaced industry workers.

“Moreover, infrastructure investments have a high multiplier effect of 3.5—meaning, it will generate P3.50 for the economy for every P1 investment—so such funding for TIEZA projects would generate badly needed economic activity in the tourism sites,” he added. 

Villafuerte noted the consensus among legislators in their approval of Bayanihan 2 that the P51-billion funding for GFIs was enough as an initial stimulus package for the MSME, transport and tourism sectors—as there would be additional recovery and rehabilitation funds anyway to be tucked in the 2021 GAA as well as the outlays for the affected industries such as tourism in the CURES and ARISE stimulus bills.

He added that the P10-billion infrastructure budget for TIEZA was included in Bayanihan 2 on the legislators’ belief that more and better tourism infrastructure projects must be build next year if the government were to rev up this sector again as an engine for high economic growth once the pandemic is over.

On Villafuerte’s watch as three-term governor, Camarines Sur was recognized by the DOT as the country’s top tourism must-see destination  with his all-out promotion of the province as a global hub for ecotourism (Caramoan Island) and extreme sports (Camarines Sur Watersports Complex or CWC).

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