Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte on Thursday demanded from the Department of Tourism an accounting of the agency’s disbursements under the P34-billion bailout package of tourism-oriented businesses it was given under the Bayanihan 2 law or Republic Act 11519.
“Amid the assertion then by DOT officials and certain industry players that tourism infrastructure was not a priority at the time, the P10-billion intended by the House for TIEZA ended up being allotted to government financial institutions (GFIs) for bailing out COVID-affected businesses, including those in the tourism industry,” according to Villafuerte, the lead author in the House of both Bayanihan 2 and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11494 or Bayanihan 1).
Such relief funds in 2021 for pandemic-hit enterprises and businesspersons included a P10-billion outlay that the House of Representatives had originally allotted for infrastructure projects of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) in its version of the Bayanihan 2 bill.
But which, following the subsequent lobbying in the Senate by the DOT and certain industry players, Villafuerte said was scrapped in the final congressional bill submitted to Malacañang.
Villafuerte, deputy speaker for finance when the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws were passed, said; “Given President Marcos’ apt push for tourism infrastructure, it seems appropriate for the DOT to tell us how much of the P34.72-billion bailout fund for COVID-hit businesses under Bayanihan 2 had actually been released to rescue resort operators and other financially distressed entrepreneurs and establishments in the tourism industry.”
“We also want to know from the DOT how and where the government intends to spend the allocation for tourism infrastructure under the ‘Build Better More’ infrastructure development program of President Marcos, who has rightly put a premium on tourism infrastructure spending in order to attract more tourists to the Philippines,” he added.
Villafuerte also said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) plans to spend P133 billion for network development to build new roads and widen existing ones, of which P15.7 billion will reportedly be spent on links to tourism destinations.
Such P15.7-billion allotment will supposedly be used by the government to improve over 16 kilometers (km) of roads leading to airports, 27.5 km leading to seaports, and 308 km leading to tourist destinations.
Villafuerte recalled that the House, under then-Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, endorsed in 2020 an allocation of P10 billion from the Bayanihan 2 stimulus package for Covid-19 response for tourism infrastructure to be built by TIEZA.
He explained that this proposed P10-billion infrastructure budget for TIEZA was included in the House-approved version of Bayanihan 2 on the legislators’ belief that “more and better tourism infrastructure projects needed to be built in 2021 and onwards for the government to rev up this COVID-battered sector anew as a boom industry and major dollar-earner once the pandemic is over.”
However, he said, this infrastructure budget “failed to see the light of day,” as then-DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, with the support of certain legislators and big industry players, had lobbied during the bicameral deliberations on Bayanihan 2 for the realignment of the P10-billion infrastructure outlay intended for TIEZA to a bailout fund for tourism-related businesses hurt severely by the government’s stringent lockdowns or mobility restrictions nationwide that barred foreigners and locals alike from going to tourist destinations.
Under Section 10 of the Bayanihan 2 law, a total of P39.472 billion was allocated for capital infusion to GFIs, of which P18.47 billion went to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and another P6 billion to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for their “wholesale banking and equity infusion for low-interest loans to persons and entities engaged in COVID-affected industries.”
Also, P10 billion was set aside in Bayanihan 2 as additional funding for the Covid-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) microfinancing project and other lending programs of the Small Business Corp. (SBCorp)—a GFI attached to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)—“as well as interest subsidies to MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises), cooperatives, hospitals, tourism industry and OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) affected by the pandemic.” Maricel V. Cruz