Health care and tourism recovery top issues in Visayas polls

HOPE FOR RECOVERY Local governments in Visayas that rely heavily on the tourism industry have yet to recover from the impact of the pandemic and recent typhoons. Business owners and their employees, like those on the island of Boracay, are hoping that candidates in the May 9 election will look into their plight. —JACK JARILLE

(Fourth in a series)

CEBU CITY, Cebu, Philippines — Coronavirus cases may have declined, but its impact lingers in many parts of the Visayas.

On the one hand, several tourism-dependent provinces have yet to recover from the effects of restrictions on leisure travel over the past two years. The pandemic is also exposing problems in the healthcare system, especially in the poorer provinces of Visayan.

With COVID-19 still a threat, tourism and health care take center stage in May’s election as voters choose among potential leaders who will present concrete plans to address issues related to these issues.

In Cebu province, two gubernatorial candidates agree tourism is needed to boost the pandemic-battered economy.

“The majority of our (local government) economies are tourism-based and depend (mostly) on the foreign market, foreign tourists, said re-elected Governor Gwendolyn Garcia.

In 2019, a year before the declaration of the pandemic, Cebu welcomed 1.4 million foreign tourists, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Cebu, where the country’s second-busiest airport operates, lacked just 200,000 foreign visitors compared to arrivals recorded on Boracay Island, the country’s top tourist destination, with 1.6 million foreign visitors the same year.

While agreeing to reopen the tourism industry to foreigners, gubernatorial candidate and former Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano criticized the Garcia administration’s handling of the pandemic.

“We see that hospitals are neglected. That’s why I’m here now because I’ll be the voice for everyone who is unhappy with the provincial government’s COVID-19 response,” he said.

If elected governor, Durano pledged to improve the province’s four provincial hospitals and 12 district hospitals.

Garcia denied mismanaging provincial and district hospitals, which critics say led to an overflow of COVID-19 patients at Cebu City hospitals.

She said medical equipment in provincial hospitals has been upgraded and at least 72 medical staff have been promoted, renamed and regularized.

Learning from the pandemic

The pandemic has also highlighted the need to modernize the healthcare system in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

Dr. Julius Drilon, head of Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital (CLMMRH) in Bacolod, said local officials should learn from the pandemic and prioritize health care.

“COVID-19 has not broken our healthcare system. It just exposed how broken he was already,” Drilon said.

Local governments, he said, not just the national government, should allocate more funds to health facilities, especially district and provincial hospitals, to avoid overwhelming regional hospitals and those in heavily urbanized cities. .

Drilon said the establishment of more molecular labs in provincial centers to speed up and expand COVID-19 testing should be pursued, especially by the government.

SURGE HEIGHT A patient with symptoms of COVID-19 and his relatives are forced to remain in their vehicle as they wait for hours to enter the emergency room at Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City on This photo taken in August 2021. —NESTLE SEMILLA

Priority

But reviving the tourism industry remains a top priority to revive the economy.

In the Western Visayas, tourist arrivals have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, although tourist destinations have reopened and visitors have started to return.

About 5.8 million tourists visited Western Visayas in 2019, contributing 131 billion pesos to the regional economy.

Flord Nicson Calawag, president of the Antique Association of Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Owners Inc., said the volume of tourists to the province was about half of arrivals before the pandemic.

He said governments and local officials could help the tourism industry recover by promoting their destinations.

The city of Iloilo, which is experiencing years of rapid growth, is among those severely affected by prolonged and repeated closures and travel and quarantine restrictions.

Although businesses have started to reopen due to relaxed health protocols, full recovery will take some time.

“While there is a semblance of normality, there is still this apprehension among business owners that things can change in the blink of an eye,” said one business leader, who asked not to. not be named in this report.

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic, are those most in need of assistance.

“They are the ones who employ most of our workforce and we can only rehire employees if they are earning income,” the business leader said.

Business issues

Among the interventions that governments and local officials can implement are those that reduce the cost to businesses of applying or renewing permits and licenses, and paying fees.

“One-stop shops for businesses were set up during the pandemic as a health measure. These should be institutionalized and improved,” the source said.

Among the measures that should be pushed or guaranteed is how to help MSMEs access government assistance, including low-interest loans to keep them afloat and recover.

In the Central Visayas, local governments have launched programs to revive the tourism industry.

In Cebu City, the Cebu City Tourism Commission (CCTC) launched the Highland Pilgrimage Tour on April 7 where people can visit the mountains and other destinations in the queen city of the south.

In Bohol, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has set up programs to help affected tourism workers.

Maria Soledad Laxa-Balistoy, provincial director of the DTI, said they were finalizing plans to develop the “creative sector” in the province, including visual and performing arts, culture, crafts, music and food, among others.

In the Eastern Visayas, Karina Rosa Tiopes, regional director of the DOT, said she was happy that candidates in this year’s elections had promised to prioritize tourism as a way to rebound from the pandemic.

“We also look forward to working hand-in-hand with them to develop a new medium-term strategic tourism plan (because) we need tourism governance that will encourage more tourism-related investment and promote well-being. stakeholders,” she added. .

—REPORTS BY ADOR VINCENT MAYOL, DALE ISRAEL, NESTOR P. BURGOS JR., JOEY GABIETA AND LEO UDTOHAN

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