SOME P10 billion worth of funding for tourism infrastructure in the proposed Bayanihan II economic recovery package should be redirected to more urgently needed direct cash aid to tourism businesses via the Department of Tourism (DoT), a legislator said Thursday, ahead of the bicameral conference committee meeting on the bill.

“What is needed is not infrastructure by TIEZA (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority) but direct assistance to stakeholders in the tourism industry directly hit by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019),” Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus B. Rodriguez said in a statement.

He said the assistance should cover the air and water transportation sectors, small resorts, hotels, and travel agencies.

In Senate Bill No. 1564, known as the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act,” P10 billion will be allocated to the DoT for assistance to hard-hit businesses, while House Bill 6953 proposes to use the same amount for tourism infrastructure.

“Many of these projects do not have immediate economic impact unlike direct assistance to tourism stakeholders and their employees,” he said.

The tourism industry was among the hardest-hit sectors during the lockdown which started mid-March, which suspended work, classes, and public transportation.

Mr. Rodriguez said the Senate version provides for loan guarantees to affected establishments, including those that need to modernize their facilities and retrain employees.

“Some industry stakeholders have expressed fears that if appropriated for roads and other tourism infrastructure, the funds could be used for political purposes,” he said.

The Senate and the House of Representatives will convene the bicameral conference committee next week to reconcile the two versions.

The Senate version calls for P140 billion worth of assistance to various sectors, while the House provided for P162 billion.

The appropriations are intended to fund expanded testing and aid vulnerable communities like low-income households, displaced workers, and micro, small and medium enterprises among other sectors. — Charmaine A. Tadalan