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Villafuerte slams ex-Tourism chiefs over ‘baseless’ statements on House’s Bayanihan 2 bill

Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte on Monday slammed former Tourism secretaries who expressed their concern over the House version of the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, particularly on the allocation for tourism infrastructure.

In a message to reporters, Villafuerte called their statements "baseless" and said it is "illogical" for them to say that there is no need for infrastructure for the tourism industry.

"We should prepare for the future. The reason why we are lagging behind our Asian neighbours is because our neighbours have better infra compared to ours," he said.

"No matter how much tourism promotions and trade fairs the DOT [Department of Tourism] joins at the end of the day, where there are no proper facilities including clean restrooms on tourism destinations, we will never beat our neighbours," he added.

Former Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta had questioned the House's allocation of P10 billion for tourism infrastructure under the proposed Bayanihan 2 Law, to be given to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

"There is no glaring need for infrastructure in the time of a deadly pandemic," said Araneta.

"The P10 billion should be deposited in the Land Bank so the small and medium tourism enterprises can avail of soft loans that will help them survive," she added.

For her part, former Tourism Secretary Narzalina Lim said the allocation of P10 billion for TIEZA was "nothing but another shameless and brazen exercise to embed pork barrel in Bayanihan Act II."

"The tourism industry does not need tourism infrastructure at this time when destinations are closed," she added.

But Villafuerte said their statements only show their bias for big tourism players who demand low-interest loans as they are the only ones who can borrow at this time.

"What we need to boost the tourism sector now is to provide jobs and assistance to displaced tourism workers which we put in the House version," he said.

The House leader also claimed that the former tourism chiefs "lacked foresight" as they only focus on existing tourism destinations and not build on those that lacked infrastructure.

He cited the tourist destinations in his home province of Camarines Sur such as the CamSur Watersports Complex and the Caramoan Islands—which, he said, he helped put on the global tourism map, something that "none of these former tourism [chiefs] achieved."

"They just like to promote what’s easy already known and popular. CamSur was never part of their program, if we did not initiate it ourselves then CamSur and other areas would not have been a tourist destination," he said.

Villafuerte is part of the House contingent to the bicameral conference committee to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House's version of the proposed Bayanihan 2 Law.

He said the breakdown and amounts to be allotted in the measure will be finalized at their meeting this Wednesday. — BM, GMA News