Boracay businesses need aid, not infrastructure

SKIMBOARDING Scenes like this young man riding his skimboard along the coast ofWhite Beach on Boracay are now rare without the tourists who used to flock to the island before the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Business owners on Boracay Island have joined calls for legislators to allocate P10 billion as financial aid to the tourism industry instead of funding more tourism infrastructure projects amid the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Elena Brugger, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Boracay, said additional infrastructure projects were the least of the needs of the tourism industry during the health crisis.

“We are on the verge of bankruptcy. We need help in saving jobs and businesses,” Brugger told the Inquirer by phone on Sunday.

Tourism stakeholders are protesting the provision in House Bill No. 6953, the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or Bayanihan 2, that allotted P10 billion for programs and infrastructure projects of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza).

The bill, which provides P162 billion for the COVID-19 response, was passed on third reading on Aug. 5.

Senate Bill No. 1564, the counterpart bill, allocates P10 billion to the Department of Tourism (DOT) to assist severely hit businesses in the tourism industry.

The Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) earlier lamented the reallocation of the assistance for the tourism industry to infrastructure projects, saying the urgent need of the industry is for businesses to stay afloat amid travel restrictions and concerns over the pandemic.

Struggle is realThe TCP has urged the bicameral meeting to reallocate the funding for direct assistance to tourism stakeholders, including providing low-interest loans.

Brugger said many of the 55 members of PCCI Boracay were struggling to remain operational.

“We have members who are losing millions of pesos daily. The small and medium enterprises are losing up to hundreds of thousands of pesos everyday because there are hardly tourists here,” she said.

Unfinished businessBrugger said some businesses that were accredited and allowed to operate by the DOT have temporarily stopped operating because they cannot sustain the salaries of their staff and other expenses.

“We need help to save the jobs of more than 20,000 employees on the island, not more infrastructure,” Brugger said.

Brugger said Tieza projects in Boracay that were part of the rehabilitation efforts on the island had remained unfinished more than two years after the island was closed down from April 26 to Oct. 25, 2018, to undergo rehabilitation.

She said the government should prioritize first the implementation and completion of ongoing and delayed projects instead of allotting much needed resources for more projects.

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