By Jun Ledesma

Balik Probinsya

I HAVE been following the activities of Sen. Bong Go at the halls of the Senate since day one. Davao journalists know him quite well. A quiet worker who served as executive assistant to then-City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. For more than 23 long years Bong served as his records custodian, telephone director, liaison officer, and more.

Once in her TV talk, Kris Aquino declared that if at all she enters politics she wants to have an OJT (on-the-job training) with Mayor Duterte. In repartee, her co-host, Boy Abunda, says “bakit kung sa Dabaw ka, you feel safe, you feel secured”. That is Kris wishing to have an OJT with the Mayor. In the case of Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go it’s over two decades of virtual political tutorship in dealing with the complexities of political leadership, city planning, and management and how to address the imponderable problems that go with peace and security and endless catastrophes. He came face to face with NPA while he and Mayor Duterte negotiated for the release of soldiers captured by the terrorists. I have seen him braving the turbulent flash floodwaters in the middle of the night to rescue residents in a subdivision with his jet ski. He is Duterte’s trusted man in running “Lingap”, the precursor of what is now Malasakit Centers.

I have to lay down these predicates to prove that the newbie Senator can walk his talk.

The COVID 19 pandemic caught nations by surprise. In less than four months, the unseen enemy created havoc in the health and economies of nations which, for centuries, flaunt their invincibility. As I write this piece there is pandemonium in America and Europe. We should tap the shoulders of our national and local leadership for keeping the coronavirus at bay. In all counts, despite the inadequacies of protective gear and testing machines, Filipinos proved we can overcome. Rosy as it may seem, COVID will linger for a while. The government can feed the needy but with the engine of industries and commerce and trade coming to a halt, the taps may just ultimately run dry.

Balik Probinsya is not a political promise as some critics want to portray it. It is part of the solution which Sen. Bong Go suggests to the Inter-Agency Task Force and the Cabinet officials. We have seen on TV the clusters of settlers that live in shanties in the sidewalks in and under the bridges and flyovers in Metro Manila. Already they are complaining of a lack of relief goods. Let’s face it, the relief agencies will eventually run out of funds if COVID 19 cannot be suppressed. The challenge and opportunity for them relocate back to the province and start a new life. The Senator’s provides a permanent solution to those who wish to have a farm and implements to till the land. A similar package is being offered to members of the New Peoples Army who return to the folds of the law. This is for a short term solution.

In the long term, it takes a political will for the national leadership to disperse the industries from the center and periphery of the National Capital Region to the provinces. The Balik Probinsya program must partake in improving the infrastructure facilities in the province and incentivize the dispersal of industries program. It also comprehends the establishment of farm to market linkages to encourage productivity and income of farmers and farmers cooperatives. Sadly the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade are remiss in this area. It is about time also to spin out the Bureau of Fisheries from the DA and make it into a separate Department considering the potentials of marine and aquaculture industries and a number of fisherfolk involve in those livelihoods.

The question is: Can all that is envisioned in the Balik Probinsya program be realized given the fact that less than three years are what is left with the Duterte administration? It is a Herculean task indeed. But this is a good time as any to reboot our economic and development program. Look beyond the confines of NCR. The fertile lands Mindanao makes it the veritable food basket of the country. In the bowels of its mountain ranges are among the world’s richest precious meta resources - gold, nickel, copper. its seas are abundant with fish, underneath its marshlands the biggest deposit of natural gas, its rivers, and waterfalls have yet to be fully utilized for hydropower plants that could generate cheap energy for industries and irrigation systems for agriculture.

Balik Probinsya is a trigger mechanism for rural development. Given adequate support from politicians, planners, and people this may yet give a vigorous momentum to economic recovery efforts post-COVID 19.



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.