Solon hits DOT over P10B bailout fund

Sabiniano Canama
COOP-NATCCO partylist Rep. Sabiniano Canama

COOP-NATCCO partylist Rep. Sabiniano Canama railed at DoT officials led by Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat for allegedly trying to lobby before the bicameral conference committee into allotting a P10 billion bailout fund apparently exclusively for them at the expense of ordinary workers who immediately need jobs to help tide them over amid the coronavirus-induced economic crisis.

“We challenge Secretary Romulo-Puyat to identify these big industry players that she is protecting and wants to bail out. The millions of displaced workers in the tourism industry deserve to know,” said Canama, who is the chairman of the House committee on cooperative development.

The House of Representatives has allocated P10 billion for the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) for its infrastructure projects and another P51 billion in additional capital to government financial institutions (GFIs) to lend out to the tourism and transportation sectors, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and other industries hit hard by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is already a larger amount of P51 billion allocated by the House for loans to pandemic-hit private businesses,” Canama said.

He pointed out that what workers need now are jobs, which can be provided by infrastructure investments, given its high multiplier effects of creating employment, generating new businesses and stimulating consumer demand.

Canama said providing loans to big companies in the tourism sector is not even a priority at this time because even with the transition to the new normal, tourists would still be wary over going out and traveling for leisure.

“Even if they are able to secure the money they want, what good would that do to starving workers and their families? Who would dare go to resorts and vacation spots with the threat of the pandemic still among us? Tourism workers need jobs now, not later,” Canama said.

Canama expressed dismay that Romulo-Puyat had allegedly even told the bicameral conference committee that if the P10-billion fund would go to TIEZA, then it would be better for the Congress to allocate or give the amount instead to other sectors.

In her August 12, 2020 letter to legislators, Romulo-Puyat said: “If Congress deems it best not to give the whole amount to our tourism stakeholders, it can be allocated to other programs of other departments that would directly address public health current crisis instead of allocating it to TIEZA for infrastructure.”

“With this statement, Puyat has, first, admitted that other sectors other than the tourism industry also need help; and second, adopted a bothersome stand against TIEZA considering that she is the chairperson of its board,” Canama said.

Canama asked why a Cabinet official who is in charge of TIEZA, a state-run firm, would want to deprive tourism stakeholders of P10 billion for infrastructure investments that would provide jobs for displaced workers and inject a multiplier effect of P35 billion into the economy.

In a related development, Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House committee on agriculture and food, urged the Senate and House contingents in the Bayanihan 2 bicameral conference committee to work for the increase of the amount allocated as stimulus fund for agriculture and fisheries amid the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“While the measure is a positive step in addressing the effects of the pandemic, I am appealing for more fund allocation for the agriculture and fishery sector, hence this should be boosted and supported aggressively. Among the different sectors in economy, it is the agriculture sector that managed to grow by 5 percent in the 2nd quarter of 2020, as it recorded increase in crops and fisheries production,” said Enverga.

“Agriculture indeed is showing a major role in pursuing a socio-economic response to COVID 19 pandemic recovery efforts. It will empower more in the countryside by creating opportunities for more livelihood and employment. Given the tight budget limit, an additional P10-B, or not less than P30-B stimulus fund, will help boost our agriculture and fisheries sector,” Enverga added.

The Bayanihan To Recover As One Act or Bayanihan II is a COVID-19 response and recovery measure to lessen the economic cost and losses from the pandemic.

Under the House approved measure, the agriculture and fisheries sector is set to receive a P20-B allocation as a stimulus fund to provide direct cash or loan interest subsidies and other forms of assistance to qualified agri-fishery enterprises, farmers and fisherfolks to ensure food security.