By Jun Ledesma

May Pag-asa sa Probinsya

BALIK Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) a program initiated by Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go may yet be the strongest economic driver that runs parallel with the resumption of implementation of the infrastructure projects stalled by the crippling coronavirus pandemic.

The senator has set the momentum. He has the support of the President and provided the vision and mission. Everyone lives comfortably with a decent means of livelihood. Under BP2 program, the thousands of jobless and those living below poverty levels who had been lured to the national capital region and other urban centers with false hopes of employment will be be given a fresh start. They are those with minimal skills or none at all that ventured to the glitzy cities and found themselves later in slums, sidewalks, and under the dingy under-the-bridge talipapas. They are ashamed to go back as they might be ridiculed. But COVID has dumped that social backlash.

This program had been tried a number of times in the past but failed miserably because the mechanisms and the strategies that could bring beneficial and sustainable means of livelihood were all lip service and utopian.

Sen. Bong Go, however, appears to have a very clear vision and strategies on how to achieve the goals of BP2. It helps that his mentor, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte stands four-square behind him and his project because this may yet be one of the most relevant and lasting legacies of this administration. In a classic irony, the COVID 19 pandemic which could run for months or years, warns that the palliative social amelioration program will soon run dry.

One thing clear in BP2 program is that it is doable. The remaining challenge is how to make the program sustainable and economically viable to the beneficiaries and therefore keep them in their new places of abode.

Having spent my years in a rural environment, I have seen the opportunities and the travails of a farmer's life. Fast forward, while serving as Director in Davao City Water District which brought me to hinterlands barangays, I have seen how traders and middlemen called jamboleros shortchanged rice, corn and vegetable farmers.

The almost successful attempt to liberate farmers, fishermen, and hog raisers from unscrupulous traders and middlemen was the establishment of the Food Terminal Inc. The pilot project was FTI Taguig and FTI Davao.

Sadly, vengeful politics mothballed all this along with NGA rice mills, silos and other valuable assets. I hate to relate how the vital real estate assets of FTI were creatively auctioned and sold to land developers practically for a song. FTI facilities were not maintained so that the new centurions could sell these. Recently they gave FTI a new name to cover the despicable abuse and pillage of the past. It is time to revisit it. There may be something there that can still be salvaged.

Let me take off from here to enunciate my view that Senator Bong Go’s BP2 can take off in a short term. Here is my two cents worth:

I understand that there are now thousands of squatter families living in the ghettos, pedestrian lanes, along reels, and underneath bridges who want to avail of BP2 program. They have to be categorized according to their skills. Not everybody loves the smell of the earth, not everyone can hammer a nail right (look what happened to Mar Roxas) not everyone knows how to even put bait on a fish hook and not a few mistake cogon grass for rice (like an Agriculture Secretary). Categorizing of target beneficiaries is key to the success of BP2.

It is noteworthy that the Senator is focused on agriculture category which can be subdivided into sub-sectors, like:

  1. Rice and Corn
  2. Vegetable and Fruits
  3. Fishing
  4. Hog and Poultry

For A, B, and D the would-be beneficiaries would need land and the economically viable area would be 2.5 hectares. The DENR knows where these lands are available. Fish culture in fish pens and cages and deep-sea fishing can be handled by the Bureau of Fisheries or in tandem with existing deep-sea operators. The area is limitless.

Senator Bong Go hinted that the Department of Budget and the Department of Agriculture may realign the DA’s budget to address the necessary capital requirement to jumpstart the implementation of the program. They might consider opening a special financing window for BP2 in the Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank. The DA must provide the technical assistance and initial seeds, seedlings, fingerlings, and the necessary agricultural inputs.

The Department of Agrarian Reforms will be tasked to open resettlement areas identified by DENR and DA. This comprehends of land distribution and initial preparation for the settlers to be able to start with the cultivation of their preferred project immediately.

Every family which will be relocated will need shelter. Since BP2 is a rapid deployment, temporary shelters must be provided. For permanent housing provision, The National Housing Authority must come up with a basic pre-fabricated 2-room housing unit design which the awardees will be able to expand later. This should be bid out. Labor to be used must come from carpenters, plumbers, masons from the BP2 beneficiaries. (Local labors should be given the opportunity to participate).

I would estimate that the gestation period of all these project undertakings will be from three to four months. Within this period a parallel undertaking may be done, among these: organizing cooperatives for each sector to be able to avail of cheap financing, implements, and inputs.

The cooperative organization is essential to each of the sectors because like in many failed agriculture-based endeavors the farmers, hog, and poultry raisers and fishermen individually lack the wherewithal in the financing, storage, processing, and marketing. Here, the Bureau of Cooperatives should wake up from hibernation and do its pencil-pushing now. The sector cooperatives must be organized later into BP2 FEDERATION OF COOPERATIVES (BFEDCO).

I touched on the FTI. Of late it was given another name but functions still as leasing firm. Whatever its functions now, its mandate has to be amended and should dovetail with the program of BP2. Senator Bong Go and President Duterte should seriously consider placing the FTI in Taguig under the auspices of BFEDCO. Legislation might be needed to shield this from political machination.

Regional BFEDCOs must be established in several pilot areas, like Davao, Bukidnon, General Santos City, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Butuan City, Zamboanga, Jolo, Iloilo, Negros, Cebu, Leyte, Legaspi City, Benguet, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Norte, and Tuguegarao. The Local Government Units in each of the pilot areas must provide lands adequate enough to accommodate necessary infrastructures like cold storage facilities, processing plants, classification area, and packaging areas to name a few. The prime consideration of sites is access to the sea, air, and land transports. BFEDCOs should be provided with reefer vans to deliver the members’ produce from designated pick-up stations to their regional BFEDCO storage, processing, and packaging facilities.

Part of the food and marketing chain is shipping. The cost of freight should at least be 50% of the rack rate charge by the airline, freight forwarders, shipping firms, and trains. The Department of Finance may consider giving tax credits for half of the freight cost and the remaining 25% be shouldered by BFEDCO. To guarantee the continuous movement of supplies, all airline firms must allocate cargo space for BFEDCO in each of their flight from the Regional BFEDCOs.

FOR a starter, the main domestic destination of BFEDCO products should be in FTI Taguig. From there, wholesalers and retailers in Metro Manila will purchase their requirements like vegetables, fruits, fish and meat.

That will be all for now. Complicated? It’s easier than how it looks when all the hands are on deck.



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.