By Mario Casayuran
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go clarified today that the implementation of the “Balik Probinsya’’ (Back to the Province) program is on a voluntary basis for Filipinos who are willing to consider relocating to their respective home provinces.
In an interview, Go said that while the long-term goal of the “Balik Probinsya” program aims to encourage urban dwellers and businesses to relocate to the provinces to promote equitable distribution of opportunities and economic development throughout the country, it should still be “voluntary.’’
“Walang pilitan ito, hindi pwedeng pilitin ‘yung mga tao na umuwi na ng probinsya. Hinanda po ito para sa mga may gustong lumipat o umuwi na. Bibigyan sila ng gobyerno ng magandang oportunidad na magsimula ng maayos na pamumuhay sa kanilang mga probinsya pagkatapos ng COVID-19 crisis,” Go said. (There is no forced departure for people to leave for the provinces. This program is for people who want to leave urban centers. Government will give them the opportunity to start life anew after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis is over.)
“Ngayon po ito pwedeng mangyari dahil maraming gustong umuwi so unahin natin ‘yung mga gustong umuwi. Kung gusto nila manirahan dito sa Maynila, respetuhin po natin. Sino ang gustong umuwi, ‘yun ang unahin,” Go reiterated, citing many Filipino families who have expressed willingness to relocate to their home provinces after their experiences during the current COVID-19 crisis. (We will start with the many who want to go back to the provinces. We will respect the decision of those who want to stay in Manila.)
Go also stated that initial talks with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and other key officials of concerned government agencies had already resulted in the signing of Executive Order 114, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 6, institutionalizing the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program” with the creation of its council to oversee its implementation.
“Ang mga local government units (LGUs) ay naghahanda na rin po para tumanggap ng mga magsisibalikan para mabigyan sila ng sapat na tulong, pabahay, kabuhayan at iba pa,” he emphasized. (LGUs are preparing to accept those wanting to go back to the provinces where they would be given assistance, housing and livelihood, among others.)
Last Monday, May 4, Go filed Senate Resolution 380 urging the Executive branch to formulate and implement a Balik Probinsya Program. It was adopted by the Senate on the same day. President Duterte’s order came days after the resolution was adopted.
EO 114 was issued and will make the Balik Probinsya Program a priority after the national health crisis. Preparations for the long-term plan are underway while programs are also in place for immediate implementation for those who wish to move now, according to concerned officials from the Executive branch.
“Para sa mga gustong umuwi na ngayon, may nakahanda nang protocols daw ang gobyerno para siguraduhin na ligtas ang pagbyahe at hindi ito magdudulot ng lalong pagkalat ng sakit. May transportation assistance at transitory package na ipapamahagi (will be given),” Go said. (To those who want to leave now, protocols are in place to ensure their safety and that they would not spread the virus.)
The EO mandates the creation of the Balik Probinsya Bagong Pag-asa Council which tackles policies for balanced regional development.
Go said the EO states that the body would provide an over-all direction for all the policies and implementation for the Balik Probinsya Program (BPP), especially in developing regions.
He also emphasized that as a legislator, he would help formulate long-term plans and push for key legislative measures necessary to encourage more Filipinos to go home to the provinces and start their lives anew.
Go said in the interview that he is studying proposed laws that would encourage investors and businesses to expand their operations in the provinces and grant them incentives to boost development and availability of economic opportunities in the countryside.
With regard to the issues of land use, Go also mentioned that concerned government departments and agencies, such as the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the National Housing Authority (NHA) would help in planning out available land that can be converted for the use of the beneficiaries for housing, businesses and agriculture.
“Halimbawa, hindi lang po lupa gaya dun sa mga farmers o sa mga agrarian reform na kasalukuyang ginagawa ng gobyerno. Marami pa palang lupa para dito sa mga urban dwellers (na magrerelocate). Halimbawa, may mga government lands tayo sa mga probinsya, in coordination with NHA, na pwede nilang pagtayuan ng murang pabahay to encourage yung mga nagbalik-probinsya na mabigyan sila ng pag-asa na magkaroon sila ng sariling pamamahay,” Go said. (There are lands for urban dwellers who would be relocated. For example, there are government lands that the NHA could use for low-cost housing.)