SENATE Minority Leader Franklin Drilon lamented the insufficient support from the government to the pandemic-stricken tourism industry, citing the meager budget of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the absence of cash-for-work allocation for employees of tourism enterprises in the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP).
“Tourism is the second biggest contributor to the country’s GDP. Instead of rewarding and supporting the DOT and tourism enterprises, our national budget keeps on decreasing its support for the tourism industry,” Drilon said during the Senate hearing on the agency’s proposed 2021 budget.
The tourism industry accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019 and employed 5.7 million workers, he stressed.
The DOT proposed a P4.9 billion budget to the DBM for 2021. However, only P3.52 billion was approved for next year.
The Senate chief fiscalizer said “the amount is insufficient given the sector’s contribution to the economy and its capability to bring back economic activities halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Drilon emphasized the need to capacitate the DOT to bring back the robust tourism and concomitant economic activities halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do hope that we could push tourism farther, especially at this time because tourism is the quickest way by which we can recover,” he said. “I will support an increase of the DOT budget to help revive the tourism sector. This is an industry that deserves our support. I hope our voices can be heard here.”
Drilon added: “There’s a lot to be said about Senator Gordon’s comment that the national government’s support to the tourism industry has been all but lip service. It is not reflected in the agency’s budget.”
“There is no way that the policy thrust laid down by the DOT can be supported and sustained by the meager budget given by the DBM,” he said.
Aside from insufficient budget for the tourism department, Drilon also questioned why there is no additional allocation for cash-for-work programs to assist displaced tourism workers in the 2021 budget.
To make the matters even worse, it was revealed upon Drilon’s questioning that the whole P10 billion allocation for the tourism sector under Bayahinihan to Recover as One has not been released by the DBM.
“Ano po ang aasahan ng ating kasama at kawani sa tourism industry kung wala pong budget para sa cash-for-work? Drilon aired his concern.
“This is infuriating. We allocated P10billion for the sector, yet, the national government has not released a cent to the affected sector! Imagine, the P3 billion allocation under the Bayanihan To Recover as One for the cash-for-work programs to assist displaced and unemployed tourism workers has not been released by DBM,” Drilon said in a statement.
Along with other senators, Drilon fought to keep the P10 billion allocation for the tourism sector, of which P6 billion will be for loans and interest subsidy under the Covid-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) program of the Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation under the DTI to assist micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs); P1 billion for the tourism road infrastructure programs under the DPWH; and P3 billion for the cash-for-work programs under the DOLE to assist displaced and unemployed tourism workers.
“COVID-19 may have crippled our tourism sector but it will be the national budget that will kill it if we do not correct this,” he said.
Drilon called on the Department of Budget and Management to immediately release the fund to benefit the tourism sector, especially considering that the law will expire by December of this year.
“It is deplorable and inexcusable. When we were crafting Bayanihan 2, we stayed within the budget ceiling imposed by the Department of Finance. So why are there no releases? Are the funds to back up the appropriations under Bayanihan 2 not available? I cannot believe that Secretary Dar and Secretary Romulo-Puyat are so negligent, or dumb, not to submit the appropriate Special Budget Requests. The farmers and the fisherfolk need it. The displaced workers and distressed MSMEs in the tourism industry need it. The appropriation authority under Bayanihan 2 expires on December 19, 2020, and therefore DBM must release the budgets,” he stressed.
Drilon also questioned why the budget for market and product development of the DORT was slashed by 51.83% in the National Expenditure Program – from P1.15 billion this year to P5554.8 million next year.
In addition, Drilon noted the 53 percent decrease in the proposed budget of the Intramuros Administration from its present budget of P185 million to P90 million next year.
These budget cuts do not support the pronounced policy thrust of the DOT of focusing on cultural and domestic tourism as part of the new normal, he added.
Drilon has been instrumental in the revival of the tourism industry in Iloilo City.