Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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More fun, even if no funds, in PH

“Everybody is just waiting to be asked,” said Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat with some astonishment, during her guest stint as resource speaker at Tuesday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel.”

The DOT head was speaking about the many private sector leaders who had already met with her and offered their pro bono services to help the country’s tourism efforts. These ranged from the heads of some of the country’s top advertising agencies to famous designers and graphic artists, tour operators and travel agencies, and even Philippine Airlines, whose president Jaime Bautista was present at the lunch.

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Perhaps accounting for Romulo-Puyat’s high spirits was that, the day before, as part of his controversial State of the Nation Address, President Duterte picked up the DOT’s line about launching “a new national effort” on tourism, especially with the pending reopening of Boracay to the public in October.

“This is just the beginning,” noted the tourism chief, adding that she had met with local government officials and urged them to “positively implement our laws,” especially on the protection and preservation of the environment. “Don’t wait for the national government to shut you down,” she told local officials.

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Despite the closure of Boracay, which was the destination of choice for many foreign and local tourists in search of places to visit, tourism arrivals were hardly affected and, in fact, had increased, said the DOT secretary. “The good news is that tourism arrivals as of June had reached 528,000, an increase of 11.35 percent,” she said. She cited the efforts of tour operators and agencies who “redirected” tourism bookings to
other destinations in the country, thereby spreading the blessings of tourism.

“The Philippines is more than just about beaches,” declared Romulo-Puyat. “There is also the food, the culture, the history and the people.”

She is also retaining the old tourism slogan “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” although they plan to modify it somewhat. This, despite there being “no funds in the Philippines,” which explains her joy at the willingness of the private sector to step in and help in whatever way it can.

Despite her disability, being “only” half-blind, Sofia Gabrielle Lontayan, 13, was determined to live as “normal” a life as possible. For this reason, Sofia joined the Girl Scouts in her school, but was crestfallen when told that she could not take part in a camping activity.

“I was a little sad about it,” Sofia told participants at the recent public presentation of a national report on “The Situation of Children with Disabilities in the Philippines.”

But a silver lining came in the form of her participation last June in the National Children’s Conference, where she met other children with disabilities. After listening to their stories and spending time in their company, said Sofia, she wonders how she and her friends would fare “if we had no one to help—who could provide us education, safety and protection?”

Well, it seems there are plenty of people—in and out of government, part of their families or not—willing to lend a hand and guide them. But the trouble is, according to the report, it is difficult to forge a coordinated, concerted plan of action and national policy because of conflicting understanding of what exactly constitutes “disability.”

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Jannis Montanes of the Development Academy of the Philippines, one of the report’s authors, said even just the gathering of data varies from LGU to LGU. In practical terms, it means that many children with disability are not able to access discounts for medicines, transportation and services simply because they can’t get identification cards. “NGOs, disabled people’s organizations and parents are active, but they need to speak with a unifying voice,” said Montanes.

Another concern is that “children with disabilities are exposed to or are at risk of abuse, neglect, abandonment and exclusion,” and are at particularly high risk during disasters. Indeed, the study found that 52 percent of children with disabilities live in high-risk areas, “and this does not even include areas of armed conflict.”

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Berna Romulo Puyat, Department of Tourism, Tourism
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