MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support for Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go’s proposed “Balik Probinsya” program that seeks to decongest overcrowded Metro Manila once the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic is put under control.
In a speech aired Friday on state-run PTV-4, Go explained to Duterte that the proposed Balik Probinsya program aims to provide incentives and livelihood opportunities to Filipinos who wish to return to their respective provinces after the lifting of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
He noted that the lack of urban planning and rural development is one of the reasons why Covid-19 is spreading fast in the country’s metropolis.
“As soon as the enhanced community quarantine is lifted and travel is gradually normalized, the government must encourage Filipino families to move out of Manila and other metropolitan areas. Government must provide them the means and incentives to go back to the provinces for good,” Go said.
Under the Balik Probinsya program, the government would provide free transportation and livelihood assistance to Metro Manila residents who want to be relocated to their respective provinces.
The planned relocation would start after Duterte lifts the implementation of the ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas with confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Duterte, responding to Go’s remarks, agreed that the proposal would give Filipinos “hope”.
“Maganda iyan, Bong (Your recommendation is good, Bong). Go home to the province. They have the means of going back and there is a promise,” he said. “What’s important is we give them hope.”
Metro Manila is home to 12.87 million Filipinos, according to a 2015 census.
About 4,877 confirmed Covid-19 infections have been recorded in Metro Manila, according to the April 24 data uploaded on the official website of the Department of Health.
Go, chairperson of the Senate health and demography panel noted that 70 percent of Covid-19 cases in the country are in Metro Manila.
He said overpopulation, congested traffic, and pollution in Metro Manila would be addressed, once his proposed relocation program is implemented.
He added that the government would also be able to prepare for future possible disease outbreaks, other crises and natural disasters.
Go saw the need for proper planning to ensure the effective implementation of the proposed Balik Probinsya program.
He said the government, in coordination with the private sector, must take the necessary steps for the country to be able to adapt to the “new normal” after the Covid-19 crisis.
“(Balik Probinsya) is a long-term plan to encourage them na bumalik sa ating probinsya. Kailangang pag-aralan at planuhin ito nang mabuti kung paano sila bigyan ng kabuhayan. Hindi ito immediate na ngayon (i-implement) kasi may mga quarantine protocols pa tayo na sinusunod (Balik Probinsya is a long-term plan to encourage them to return to their respective provinces. We need to thoroughly study and plan how we can grant the livelihood assistance. It will not be immediately implemented because we still have to follow the quarantine protocols),” Go said.
Go said the proposed Balik Probinsya would not only contain the Covid-19 outbreak but would also boost the country’s economy.
He made the remarks as he cited that the Philippines, despite its booming economy, remains a “largely agricultural country with plenty of idle lands in the countryside that can be developed.”
“This proposal is also about equitable distribution of the gains of our fast-developing economy, balanced development of the urban and rural areas and poverty alleviation," he said.
He suggested that the government may facilitate the use of some idle lands for the productive use of people who will be relocated from Metro Manila and other metropolitan areas.
“Coupled with tax reforms and more aggressive support for MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises) development, the government may be able to create a business environment conducive for more investments in the countryside,” he explained.
Go also said rural areas can provide the needed human resource for new businesses in provinces by linking up with higher educational institutions and technical and skills development centers.
The Department of Trade and Industry has vowed to provide incentives for businesses that would open in the provinces to attract countryside investments.
Financial assistance and affordable loans would also be provided to those who seek to open MSMEs in the provinces.
Go said his proposal is being studied by the government.
“Maraming sumasang-ayon na ilagay na rin ang national offices sa probinsya. Papakinggan natin ‘yan para ma-decongest ang Metro Manila. Maraming probinsya ang may potensyal (Many agree that national offices should be in provinces. We are also listening to the proposal to decongest Metro Manila. Many provinces have the potential to be developed),” he said. (PNA)