(Left, standing) City councilor Jimbo Maristela during a regular session.

City councilor Peter Maristela on Monday questioned the City Tourism Office’s (CTO) delayed utilization of the more than P39-million worth of funds intended as assistance to workers in the tourism sector, whose livelihoods are still at a standstill because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Nearly P39-million allocated funds meant to aid displaced tourism workers since the beginning of the pandemic remain untouched in the city government’s coffers, because the program submitted by the CTO is still waiting for approval.

According to city tourism officer Demetrio Alvior, once the program crafted by their technical working group is approved by the city government, it can be launched in May. Maristela, however, said this is too late because more than 9,000 tourism workers are still jobless and waiting for assistance from the local government.

In an interview Tuesday (April 6),  Maristela bewailed the City Tourism Office’s failure to finalize how they will use the P39,250,000 where P29,250,000 is intended to be used as a cash-for-work incentive, while P10 million is for a microloan program for workers who can start small businesses – when the pandemic has already lasted for more than a year.

“Nagtataka na lang kami na tapos na ang first quarter ng 2021 ay wala pa ring tulong na naibibigay sa mga taga-tourism sector, na wala pa ring trabaho hanggang ngayon. Ayon nga sa City Budget Office (CBO), ni singko walang bawas doon sa P39 million na na-approve para sa City Tourism Office. Middle of 2020 pa ‘yon nila ni-request, dapat naaksyunan agad. Tapos ngayon lang nila sasabihin na ngayon pa lang nila ginagawa,” he said.

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Maristela added that the suggested cash-for-work program, which is meant to employ a total of 9,842 workers for only 10 days at P325 per worker, is still too small and unsustainable for the current circumstances, since tourism is still at a standstill due to suspended flights to Puerto Princesa City.

“May pondo naman talaga para matulungan ang mga tourism workers. Kailangan lang talaga na tama ang program na magawa para sa kanila,” he added.

Alvior admitted that there indeed were delays to crafting the program, since they did multiple consultations with various members of the tourism sector. He also admitted that the 10-day cash-for-work program is unsustainable and only serves as a band-aid solution amidst the ongoing crisis.

“Nagkaroon talaga ng delay. Yes, the cash-for-work was really meant to be a band-aid solution, and we are open to suggestions naman to make a more sustainable program,” Alvior explained.

City councilor Patrick Hagedorn also suggested that tour guides be given priority in the financial aid program because they are struggling to find clients from local tourists.

“Kapag local tourist kasi, pupunta ‘yan sa mga sites, pero hindi ‘yan kukuha ng tour guide. Kaya nakita ko na ang mga tour guide ay talagang hirap ngayon, ganoon na rin ang mga boatmen,” he said.

Efforts to reopen the city to domestic tourism remain at a halt due to travel restrictions brought back by the national government thanks to an all-time high of new cases beginning mid-March.

The city government initially reopened to Palawan-based locals in early December 2020, and even did several promotional caravans to encourage tourists to visit local beaches and community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) sites.

When city officials removed the mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers mid-March, hope for domestic travel was awakened, only to be shut down again by renewed travel restrictions due to rising local cases in both the city and in the Greater Manila Area.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.