NOTE: This story was first published in The Bohol Chronicle’s Sunday print edition.
Adaption and innovation were key perspectives at online learning session for business continuity and recovery convened by Cong. Edgar Chatto together with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) via popular online video communication platform Zoom on June 30.
Chatto partnered with the USAID through the Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project in the online exchange of ideas to fortify Bohol economy by ensuring that local government, business and tourism stakeholders are at par with information in efforts to improve systems, strengthen essential sectors, and protect the vulnerable amid disruptions brought about by the COVID pandemic.
Contraction of the Philippine economy was pegged at .2% in the first quarter of the year with unemployment at highest since 1956 at 17.7%, an estimated 7 million workers unemployed. In Bohol, economic loss was assessed at P1 Billion. Business and tourism are hardest hit industries in Bohol with closure of non-essential establishments during imposition of the community quarantines.
USAID’s Senior Economic Manager and SURGE Program Coordinator John Avila cited exemplary resource persons that included Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez, Senator Sonny Angara, and Congresswoman Stella Quimbo.
Puyat reported Bohol is a model for post-COVID tourism with domestic tourism driving recovery in the re-opening of Panglao and as DOT continues to accredit accommodations.
Lopez also confirmed availability of incentives for investments in the upgrading of establishments to comply with new standards such as COVID-proofing of facilities.
Government spending, fiscal and monetary policies along with exploration of business models and diversification of sectors is expected to build both business and consumer confidence.
Quimbo, principal author of economic stimulus bill in Congress, said productive spending will manage deficit and is exactly why utilization of funds is put into law through the ARISE Bill.
The economic stimulus bill, also adopted in the Senate includes provisions for COVID testing, wage subsidies, interest-free loans, credit mediation, e-wallet, subsidies for education, grants for technical assistance, Cash for Work, OFW assistance, agri-fishery and tourism investments.
Angara for his part lauded Bohol for forward thinking recommendations for economic stimulus which was one of considerations in the crafting of the law.
Gov. Art Yap had earlier on lobbied for the fast tracking of government procurement, granting by the BangkoSentralngPilipinas of one-year grace period for loans contracted by tourism, transport, and manufacturing industry companies affected by COVID-19, and offering by the Landbank and Development Bank of the Philippines of financial packages to LGUs.
Yap is also pushing for local government flexibility in raising funds and legislative backing for national government to open up local level large scale investments such as in telecommunications.
“We are one with Bohol in these challenging times, Avila assured local officials and stakeholders as he hoped that stronger collaboration will help Tagbilaran City and Bohol to reinvent its strategies as restrictions are eased and businesses re-open.
The task is Herculean, Chatto said of business continuity and recovery, and bringing together national and local executive and legislative leaders with business and tourism stakeholders in the learning session will help shape local response as well as policy development in the country so that businesses will not only survive but thrive.
He thanked USAID SURGE for being a reliable partner with whom he shares common passions and advocacies, including the use of digital means to level off anxieties of the business and tourism stakeholders and how government can help with recovery towards a better normal.
USAID SURGE led by city program coordinator Linda Paredes has been assisting Tagbilaran City led by Mayor Baba Yap for climate change/disaster resiliency, land use and infrastructure planning, business competitiveness.
It has been in consistent collaboration with the City Government and the Provincial Government of Bohol even back when Chatto was then governor in the formulation of strategies to expand investment promotions as well as in common interest concerns in road and transport connections, traffic management, ICT. The lead agency for development and humanitarian assistance is among major partners of Bohol, with US Government and Bohol partnership dating back to the Governance and Local Democracy (GOLD) project in 1996.