THANKSGIVING. Pangasinenses attend a “Simbang Gabi” (night mass) in front of the Pangasinan Provincial Capitol in celebration of the Yuletide season. The province and its people are bouncing back amid the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Province of Pangasinan)

MALASIQUI, Pangasinan – Tourism and economy in the province of Pangasinan, as well as its people, generally are bouncing back amid the continuous battle against the pandemic.
 
“Compared to last Christmas that was full of sadness because of the pandemic, this year, we can already feel the reviving of joy and gladness in the province due to the discipline, sacrifice, and unity of the people against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19),” Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino III said in his video message posted over the weekend.
 
The number of Covid-19 cases in Pangasinan is now down to 46 active cases as of December 20. The daily average infection rate is now at five compared to the 435 daily last September.
 
Espino said this is a result of the Pangasinenses’ compliance with the minimum health standard and the sacrifices of the front-liners, as well as employees from the national to the local governments.
 
He also attributed the decrease in the number of cases to the vaccination rollout.
 
As of December 16, some 1.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in the province as first dose, or 74.51 percent of its total eligible population.
 
About 1 million doses for the second dose have also been administered, or 43.36 percent of the eligible population, have been fully vaccinated.
 
Job fair 
 
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in coordination with the Pangasinan Public Employment Services Office (PESO), has recently conducted the first face-to-face (F2F) job fair during the pandemic that catered to some 300 Pangasinense jobseekers.
 
“This is in celebration of the 88th foundation anniversary of the DOLE. It has resumed its conduct of F2F jobs fair with strict compliance on health and safety protocols. The applicants registered online and visited the site,” DOLE Ilocos information officer Justin Paul Marbella said in an interview on Tuesday.
 
The DOLE shifted its jobs fair to an online platform in view of mass gathering restrictions.
 
He said over 2,800 job vacancies were offered to job seekers.
 
Marbella said 17 job seekers were hired on the spot (HOTS) and 12 were near-hires.
 
Arkland Austria, 29, a civil engineer from San Carlos City, Pangasinan and one of the HOTS in the F2F jobs fair, said he will work as a safety officer in a local company and will be trained for deployment to Saudi Arabia.
 
“I am very happy because I finally got a job. I was not able to work for almost a year due to the pandemic but because of this job fair, I can now work again,” he said in an interview.
 
Mia Mamaril, 24, of Lingayen town, Pangasinan, thanked DOLE and Pangasinan PESO for the opportunity given to her through the jobs fair. 
 
Assistance 
 
The Pangasinan Provincial Information Office (PIO), in a statement, said different national government agencies have distributed livelihood assistance grants worth PHP6.7 million to over 715 beneficiaries in the province from January 1 to December 16 this year.
 
The Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) under the mechanization program of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), has turned over PHP940-million agricultural inputs and machinery this year.
 
Some 1,424 African swine fever (ASF) affected hog raisers in the province received financial assistance from DA worth PHP10.5 million, while the department has started its hog repopulation program in the formerly ASF-affected areas.
 
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has also distributed financial assistance worth PHP8 million to 1,600 individuals in a crisis situation on top of other aid given by the agency to the province.
 
Some 13,295 residents from Western Pangasinan, 14,014 from Central Pangasinan, and 25,818 from Eastern Pangasinan, were among the recipients under the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD), a community-based package of assistance that provides emergency employment of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
 
Some 20 units of nego-kart or the “Negosyo sa Kariton” were turned over to residents in Western Pangasinan, and 225 units to Central Pangasinan. 
 
These are in addition to the provincial government’s efforts to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic to the residents and the province as a whole.
 
The provincial government has recently relaunched the Abig (Heal) Pangasinan caravan that provides different services, assistance, and opportunities to the residents.
 
Competitiveness 
 
Some local government units (LGUs) in the province have been awarded in the Cities Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI).
 
Tayug town ranked eighth in the overall competitiveness under third and fourth class municipality; Basista town ranked third for resiliency award under the third and fourth class municipality; Dagupan City and Tayug town as fourth and sixth rank, respectively, for government efficiency award; Sison town on the fifth spot in economic dynamism under third and fourth class municipality; Tayug town on the ninth spot in infrastructure under third and fourth class municipality; Umingan and Malasiqui towns on sixth and seventh rank, respectively, for most improved LGU in the first and second class municipality.
 
The CMCI is an annual ranking of Philippine cities and municipalities. It is measured based on five competitiveness pillars, these are Economic Dynamism, Government Efficiency, Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Introducing Innovation.
 
Tourism
 
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has launched the bike trail tourism project in San Fabian, Pangasinan that will aid in physical and mental health, and attract more domestic tourists amid the pandemic. 
 
In a recent interview, DOT Ilocos regional director Joseph Francisco Ortega said this is part of the tourism recovery plan focusing on outdoor activities. 
 
Ortega said San Fabian bike trail is the “most ready” for the new tourism product as it has existing trails complete with a biker's den.
 
The municipality of Bolinao has been awarded second place for its best tourism practice during the pandemic by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and the Department of Tourism in the annual Pearl Awards.
 
The town’s entry titled, Mibangon Atamo (We Rise as One), centered on the involvement of everybody to overcome the challenges brought about by the pandemic to the tourism industry in their locality.
 
In a phone interview, municipal tourism officer Mary de Guzman attested that the Bayanihan prevails in their town among the national government agencies, tourism workers, associations, and the citizens.
 
Since Pangasinan was placed under Alert Level 2, travel restrictions were eased giving way to more tourist arrivals in the province.
 
Anti-drug, anti-insurgency campaigns
 
There were 1,065 drug-cleared barangays out of the 1,272 drug-affected barangays in the province as of December 6 this year, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
 
“Hopefully, we would be able to clear the entire province before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration as we only have 14 percent left,” PDEA Pangasinan provincial officer Rechie Camacho said.  
 
Camacho said most of the remaining barangays not cleared from illegal drugs lack “Balay Silangan”, which is a requirement for the local government units (LGUs).
 
Meanwhile, some 41 former supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) here denounced their support to the terrorist group and pledged allegiance to the national government anew.
 
Pangasinan Police Provincial Office (PPPO) officer-in-charge Col. Richmond Tadina said the former supporters were part of the underground mass movement organizations (UGMO) in the province. 
 
"Since Pangasinan has been insurgency-free since 2019, there are no armed groups but there are still the UGMO who support the CPP-NPA although they are now denouncing their support," he said. 
 
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. 
 
The Anti-Terrorism Council also formally designated the National Democratic Front as a terrorist organization on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and separate part” of the CPP-NPA that was created in April 1973. 
 
As part of the whole-of-nation approach of the national government, the PPPO and the provincial government gave cash aid worth PHP5,000 to each of the former supporters, as well as livelihood aid, seedlings, and other farm inputs. 
 
Infrastructure projects
 
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) continuously implements its “Build, Build, Build” projects in the province despite the pandemic.
 
One of the notable projects of DPWH this year was the 7.17-kilometer bypass road in Urdaneta City.  
 
The bypass road that crosses two major road intersections of Urdaneta-Dagupan Road and Urdaneta-Manaoag Provincial Road benefited an estimated 38,000 motorists daily.  
 
The project worth PHP1.885 billion involved the construction of six lanes of Portland concrete cement pavement including sidewalk, drainage, slope protection, and installation of solar street lights.
 
It also included the construction of four permanent bridges along the bypass road that reduce travel time between Villasis town proper to Binalonan to just 30 minutes. 
 
“These bridges are the 90.90 meters Macalong Bridge, 70.90 meters Mitura Bridge 136.76 meters Mitura Bridge 2, and 60.90 meters Camantiles Bridge,” DPWH Ilocos regional director Ronnel Tan said.
 
The bypass road project started in 2014 with land acquisition and its full blast construction began in 2016 until 2020.
 
Then DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said part of the continuing big construction projects in the province are the Mangatarem-Zambales bypass road, the Lingayen-Binmaley-Dagupan bypass road, and the coastal road at the first district of Pangasinan.
 
Several municipalities in Pangasinan that often experience flooding will benefit from the constructed two riverbank protection structures in the municipalities of Bugallon and Manaoag. 
 
“One structure was constructed in Barangay Nalsian, Manaoag with 722 lineal meters in length. The completed structure will also benefit the municipalities of Sison, Pozorrubio, Binalonan, Laoac, Mapandan, and Manaoag who have experienced damages to their homes, agricultural and aquacultural lands during the onslaught of typhoons, as these communities are found along the Aloragat River, making them susceptible to flooding,” DPWH Pangasinan district engineer Edita Manuel said in a statement.
 
Manuel said the 400 households located near the river in Barangay Portic in Bugallon town that also used to experience flooding and soil erosion along the riverbanks during heavy rains will be protected from threats and damage to properties due to riverbank collapse and overflow of water following the completion of 936 lineal meters flood mitigation structure.
 
The DPWH has also completed the additional two flood walls along the riverbanks of Sinocalan River in Barangay Ventinilla and Binco River in Barangay Sonquil in Sta. Barbara town.
 
In a statement, DPWH Ilocos regional director Ronnel Tan said the construction of the 227-meter floodwall in Sinocalan River and 207-meter floodwall in Binco River involves the construction of concrete revetment with steel sheet piles foundation to provide timely infrastructure for the residents.  
 
A total amount of PHP29.4 million and PHP27.5 million were allocated under the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the implementation of the projects in Sinocalan and Binco Rivers, respectively.  
 
Meanwhile, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has started the construction of a PHP1.33-billion high-rise dam in Barangay Portic that would benefit agricultural lands in nine barangays here.
 
NIA 1 (Ilocos region) manager, engineer Angelito Miguel said the zone earth-fill dam measures 40 meters in height, 300 meters in crest length, and 11 meters in crest width.
 
“We will fill 230 meters width across the Dumoloc River. It has a spillway along its side while this project, called the Dumoloc Small Reservoir Project, also includes the construction of 4,340 km. of access road with 10 meters width and irrigation facilities to supply the existing Dumoloc irrigation system,” Miguel said.
 
The entire project, which will cost PHP1.7 billion with funding from the General Appropriations Act, will be completed in 2025, he said. (PNA)