MANILA, Philippines – While the Senate is used to criticizing and even limiting government agencies' budget, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon took a different turn on Tuesday, September 13, during the hearing of the proposed 2017 budget of the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Drilon prodded tourism officials to seek a higher budget for the agency, saying the proposed 2017 allocation of P2.40 billion might not be enough to market the Philippines properly to tourists.
The DOT's proposed budget for 2017 represents a 32% drop from the current year's P3.62 billion.
When Drilon asked DOT Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo if their proposed budget should be increased, she could not give a definitive answer. She said the department would make do with what is given them since they have unused funds from the 2016 budget that can fill the financial gap next year.
"Dagdagan 'nyo (Increase it). I will have no qualms [so as] to highlight the importance of tourism," Drilon said.
"If we can get away with a higher budget, we would appreciate it," Teo said in jest.
Of the DOT's proposed P2.40 billion budget for next year, only P300 million would be allotted for "branding" – a sharp decline from the P1.1billion in 2016 under the Aquino administration.
Citing his experiences in political campaigns, Drilon highlighted the need to elevate the country's exposure to get more tourists.
"What I have learned is that the more exposure, the more chances of being voted upon. So more exposure as a country, the more tourists are coming, with the correct marketing plan," Drilon said.
"How do you plan to achieve this if you have no budget?" he asked DOT officials.
Undersecretary Katherine de Castro welcomed the positive feedback. "On the whole, the meeting was a breath of fresh air for us, a boost in the arm," she said in a statement.
The Senate finance committee has "approved with augmentation" the agency's proposed budget, she said.
De Castro added they would only need to submit a branding and media campaign plan to get the intended budget increase, the amount of which she did not divulge.
Tourism is 'crucial'
For Drilon, it is crucial for the country to step up its tourism marketing amid the issues of vigilante killings and the Davao explosion, among others.
"The effects of this negative perception on our tourism remain to be seen, but it will definitely hit us," Drilon said.
"That is why, the DOT should enhance its tourism promotion programs and increase our presence in the international media by placing more ads, so that we can show the world that it is still 'more fun in the Philippines' despite these negative news about our country," he said.
Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda also quizzed DOT officials on the reported plans to change the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan.
"Not necessarily. The idea is to come up with activities to build on the gains that we've achieved," Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon said.
Drilon maintained that the present slogan is "attractive" and there is no need to change it.
"You are experts in marketing, and I am not. You know how to sell. But I see it (slogan) as attractive. I'm reminded of the saying 'If it ain't broke, why fix it?'" Drilon said.
In 2015, tourism accounted for 8.3% of the gross domestic product, with the arrival of 5 million foreign visitors. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org