#COVID-19 Regional Updates (05/31/20)

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Samal resort owners seek local gov’t help for furloughed workers, long-term alternative livelihood

SAMAL, accessible by boat from Davao City, is a popular beach destination for day-trippers, weekend tourists, and long-term guests. While Samal can resume tourism activities under its quarantine classification, Davao City will remain under the stricter category at least until June 15. — BW FILEPHOTO

THE summer months of April and May are typically the busiest for Samal Island, the top beach destination in Davao Region given its proximity to the Davao airport. But this year, with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the more than 100 resorts on the island have been forced to close. And resort owners are seeking help from the local government, primarily for workers who have been furloughed due to the halt in tourism activities. Pastor M. Lozada, Jr., president of the Samal Resort Owners Association, said while some of their members have been able to keep paying their employees, they are also spending to maintain facilities despite zero income since mid-March when the lockdowns started. “All resort owners do not have income, but we need to maintain our facilities and to sustain this, we need to produce cash, but we are running out of cash,” said Mr. Lozada, speaking in mixed English and Filipino, in a phone interview. He said very few of the affected workers were included in the list of beneficiaries for the cash aid from the national government under the social amelioration program (SAP). He added that this is merely a short-term subsidy, along with the relief packages distributed by the local government, which do not address the anticipated long-term impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. “Very few of them received the SAP. And even if they were given rice and sardines, that is not the solution. What is needed is they be given work,” Mr. Lozada said.

Resort owners on the island, officially named Island Garden City of Samal, do not expect tourists to start coming soon even when travel restrictions are eased and airports are reopened. “Tourism is really dead here in Samal. And we are expecting that most of the people who will be going to the resorts, when everyone is allowed to go out, mostly will be locals,” he said. But, he added, neither are they betting big on local visitors because “they are (also) mostly with no jobs.” Latest local government data show the island received an average half a million day-trip tourists annually and over 250,000 who stay a night or more. Samal Mayor Al David Uy, in an interview over Davao City Disaster Radio last May 15, said they are already planning tax discounts for resort owners, which will be applied during the business permit renewal next year. “We will give discounts to resort owners next year. If we look at Samal tourism at this point, it is zero,” Mr. Uy said. Mr. Lozada, however, said a tax discount is “immaterial” and that the more pressing problem that needs to be addressed is unemployment. Samal, established as a city in 1998, remains agriculture-based with coconut and copra production as top sector. — Maya M. Padillo