NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
The huge tourist transport sector in the province categorically turned down government offers for loan availment even with the lowest interest rate.
Jojo Baritua, president of the Airport Transport group said what they need is for a longer moratorium on their existing loans availed in purchasing vans and cars now used for rental in the tourist industry.
This sentiment of the transport group was expressed during a virtual conference attended by Sen. Migs Zubiri, DOT Secretary Bernadatte Puyat and DTI Secretary Mon Lopez and Bohol Gov. Art Yap.
The appeal of the transport operators came even as Gov. Yap informed them of his letters addressed to the national government agencies concerned like the Bangko Sentral and the various banking institutions.
Under the Bayanihan 2, about P6 billion was designed to let the affected sectors avail for their loan requirements.
The transport group operators said they want a 2-year grace period in the payment of their vehicles.
They expressed fear that if the government cannot rescue their financial condition at this time, there will be a shortage of transportation by the time Bohol will slowly reopen.
The transport operators appealed to the national officials who attended the virtual meeting to look into this possibility of having a clear tangible solution to this problem of the transport industry.
Gov. Yap emphasized during the RDC-EDC meeting the importance of leveraging national and local funds for greater impact in addressing the prevailing Covid-19 challenges.
The governor made an impassioned appeal for the RDC-7 to ask the national government to fund and implement local projects together so the impact on the ground is greater and more purposeful.
There are already domestic stimulus package and ready for implementation.
The LGUs just need the national government to spend Bayanihan 2 Funds in tandem with LGUs.
He said that in Bohol, the tourism and transport sectors, especially the tour transport groups, are the ones badly hit by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the governor and leaders of transport groups discussed with LandBank, other possible means to solve the problem of the transport groups with their mortgaged vehicles with commercial banks, aside from relying on the Bayanihan 2 Funds.
The governor pointed out that the transport drivers and operators who have mortaged vehicles with commercial banks need assistance in settling their amortization delinquencies.
They do not additional loans to burden them further at this time when their operation have been badly affected by the pandemic.
The governor earlier sent letters to Department of Tourism (DOT) Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and Department of Transportation (DOTr) Sec. Arthur Tugade, proposing that part of the Bayanihan 2 Funds be allocated to buy out the existing loans qualified tourism transport operators and these tourism-related MSMEs.
He also pointed out that many of the loans of the tourism transport sector were contracted pre-Covid,and were taken in response to the modernization drive and regulatory dictates of the DOTr.
The governor requested that accredited transport operators and tourism MSMEs be given “the chance for a breathing spell from the high-priced commercial loans they have contracted for at least 24 months; and let the Bayanihan 2 Funds buy-out the commercial loans and change them to “0” interest with minimal administration fees of 1 percent during these two years.
He pointed out that reopening tourism needs tourism transport operators and tourism-related MSMEs in accommodations, travel, tours, crafts, culinary and agri-tourism to be around to serve our visitors.
With the delinquencies in their loans, it is feared that these MSMEs and transport groups may not be around in the near future “as commercial banks have aggressively and systematically started to foreclose on many of their loans, specifically tourism transport vehicle loans”.
On this, the governor has been working on a system of using provincial government funds to buy out high-priced commercial loans and giving these operators a two-year breathing spell from having to make payments.
After that period, his plan calls for them to reassume their loans at concessional rates afforded by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to the provincial government.
However, LBP has advised that the passage of Bayanihan 2 may make the solution easier by asking the DOT for support.
“Under Republic Act 11494 or Bayanihan 2, the DOT is ‘…directed to assist critically impacted tourism enterprises” and to provide them “loan interest rate subsidy’. And, for that purpose, the SB Corporation, under the CARES Program shall administer the loans for the DOT, ‘subject to guidelines from the DOT that shall be prepared’ for the said purposes. It is very clear that the DOT will provide the Guidelines that the SB Corporation will follow,” Yap explained to Romulo-Puyat.
It is within this provision of Bayanihan 2 Law that the governor requested Romulo-Puyat to give accredited transport operators and tourism MSMEs the chance for a breathing spell from the high-priced commercial loans they have contracted for at least 24 months.
“Let the Bayanihan 2 Funds buy-out the commercial loans and change them to “0” interest with minimal administration fees of 1 percent during these two years. We must remember that these Bayanihan Funds were legislated to help our people, not burden them, much less so can the SB Corporation be given a chance to profit from these funds through ingenious fees and charges,” according to Yap.
The governor also pointed out that the proposed scheme is not new and, in fact, has already been done by LBP for the Department of Agriculture “when, using the DA’s funds, farmers were given “0” percent loans payable in eight years for input support last March”.
“Why cannot this be done now for our tourism MSMEs and transport operators? After 24 months, the debtors can reassume paying the principal amount over the remaining life of the assets they loaned the amount for still at “0” percent interest as was done in the LBP for our farmers. That will truly be a break that these suffering tourism enterprises need,” Yap said.
Thereafter, the funds given to SB Corporation to administer for DOT must be used to develop tourism MSMEs at concessional rates where the interest rate may not be at “0” percent anymore.
This can be a subject of future discussions between DOT and the SB Corporation after aiding tourism enterprises in dire need of the assistance now, the governor added.
The provincial government is willing to counterpart as under the We Survive As One Domestic Stimulus Plan, the province has set aside a credit line of P200 million as a Surety-Guaranty Fund for MSMEs.
“We can blend these funds to afford qualified beneficiaries a true and legitimate shot at surviving this crisis over the medium term. The law is clear that the DOT must provide the Guidelines for the use of these funds and we are confident that under the able and visionary leadership of Romulo-Puyat, our tourism industry will be aided and will rise from this pandemic strengthened and enabled,” Yap said.