February 3, 2020
photos Seven Barretto
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The Department of Tourism Secretary talks about visiting far-off lands and overseeing the switch towards sustainability and ethical tourism

RELATED READS: Inside The Life Of Berna Romulo Puyat, Secretary Of Tourism

Beige piña top, CHED STUDIO; Beige skirt, PAOLO ARUCAN; and accessories, KOKET.

When Berna Romulo Puyat was younger, stepping out into the public eye and working in government service had never been her plan. The daughter of former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Romulo and Lovely Tecson, she grew up surrounded by adults immersed in the political sphere and came from a long line of Romulos who had devoted themselves to the nation. Everything young Berna had learned of that world had her determined to be a homemaker, like her mother, but life, as it often does, had different plans for her. 

A graduate of the University of The Philippines with an undergraduate and master’s degree in economics, she was first an educator at the university’s School of Economics before the political bug bit her, something she was sure was never going to happen. In 2004, she ran for the position of First District Representative of Quezon City, an endeavor that ended in a loss but gave her the experience of connecting with constituents. She soon started the Botika ng Bayan program, which worked to provide medicine and generic drugs to the indigent. 

Her next step was the position of Undersecretary for Special Concerns at the Department of Agriculture, a role she held for close to 12 years which allowed her to travel all over the Philippines, working on agrarian reform and hearing the issues of women who worked on the fields. “I was a stranger to my own country and before I entered the Department of Agriculture, I actually preferred going abroad,” reflects Berna, “But because of my job at the DA, I had the chance to not only appreciate our farmers but also see that the beauty of our country. It is not only the sights but the people as well.”

When Berna was given the mandate of the Department of Tourism Secretary in May 2018, it was her background at the DA that gave her the confidence to say yes, despite knowing the mountainous challenges before her. “I never expected the job to be easy since I’ve worked for the government for so long,” she says. “Our work is 24/7 and there are no holidays.”

Sec. Berna on the rehabilitation of Boracay: “It inspired a movement to
take care of our tourist spots because it showed what would happen if we didn’t.”

Rehabilitating an Icon

As short as ten years ago, the very idea of responsible tourism would’ve been unheard of in the Philippines, but the rehabilitation of the once-notorious party island, and how those in the Task Force stopped it from turning into a cautionary tale like Laos’ Vang Vien to a paragon of sustainability owes much of its success to hard work. “Our efforts in Boracay are now replicated in other provinces to ensure the environmental integrity of our tourist destinations,” says Berna. “It has also enticed the private sector to come up with their own initiatives to promote sustainable and responsible tourism in its business activities. We have actively engaged corporate entities, big and small, to aid tourism to deliver this message on sustainability.”

The result has been paramount in ensuring Boracay’s future as a haven for both tourists and Filipinos. Berna is proud to note that their success has made the Philippines a champion of Sustainable Tourism around the world. “We have been receiving recognition, such as the Excellent Partner Award given by the Japan Tourism Awards for this feat. The island also ranked first among the “Best Islands in Asia” for 2019 by Condé Nast Traveler,” she notes.

Green dress and white jumpsuit, JEROME SALAYA ANG.

Improvements in Infrastructure

Complaints on social media are never about the destinations themselves, but usually, about the infrastructure, it takes to get there, and the experiences in local airports that make what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation into a stressful, harried one. To remedy this, the DoT is working with the Department of Transportation (DOTr)/Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) through a convergence program called the Institutionalized Leveraging Infrastructure Program for Airport Development (iLIPAD). “This will identify and prioritize the development and infrastructure needs of airports to improve the tourist experience in the country,” says Berna.

Places that are being focused on are Baguio, Bohol, Siargao, Siquijor, Davao, Coron, and El Nido. Improvements will include potential interventions pertaining to urban planning, water supply, sanitation, waste management, tourism facilities, energy, transport, conservation-based tourism, natural resources management, disaster risk management, health, and skills development for tourism SMEs.

Read the full story written by Sara Siguion-Reyna in Lifestyle Asia’s February 2020 Edition titled, “Exploring the Island Paradise.”

Photographer SEVEN BARRETTO
Sittings Editor DONG RONQUILLO
Stylist ALEX CASTILLO of QURATOR
Hair and Makeup JONATHAN VELASCO
Shoot Coordination ALYANNA TIMOG
Shot on location at EL NIDO RESORTS
Special Thanks to AIRSWIFT

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