By JULLIE Y. DAZA
. . . isn’t about the crest and trough, rise and fall of Covid-19 infections. The next wave – the next big thing – will be the mass movement of unhappy Metro Manilans leaving the congested city to return to their hometowns to begin afresh.
It happened so suddenly on Wednesday, the first batch of returnees taking advantage of the government’s promise of new hope (“Bagong Pag-asa”) through its “Balik Probinsiya” program, that it was hard to believe that Sen. Bong Go, the President’s First Buddy, and at least four Cabinet secretaries had time to spare in the thick of a heart-stopping pandemic, to give them the send-off of a lifetime. (Did anyone give the pioneers who settled in Mindanao, the land of promise, an official hail-farewell?)
Loaded with their worldly possessions packed into bulging bags and boxes, 120 returnees boarded their airconditioned tourist buses after filling out what looked like departure forms. Their destination: Palo, Leyte. Their travel documents: P5,000 in cash upon boarding, P35,000 upon arrival. Their dream: Eventually, a package worth at least P250,000 to start a new life, away from the travails and troubles plaguing the congested cities of the capital region. The freebies, explained an undersecretary, include sewing machines, farming equipment, raw materials and tools, etc. as befits the beneficiary’s choice of a business or enterprise.
Could anybody other than the probinsiyano Senator Go have pulled off Balik Probinsiya, a logistical challenge any way you look at it, with such speed, without a flurry of fanfare? “We’re not forcing anyone to leave Metro Manila to go back to the province,” he said. He could have added, “But if you’re smart, you’ll take this offer.”
Since the program was announced little more than a month ago, thousands of applications have been received by who knows which office – President Duterte’s? the First Buddy’s? Whichever, the tsunami of responses affirms the urgency and timeliness of a campaign born, of all times, in the time of coronavirus. The state needs more money to fight the virus, keep people indoors, build quarantine facilities, conduct tests; but if it can afford Balik Probinsiya by sending a significant number of residents out of the biggest infection site (60 percent), we should wish them “Good luck, good health.” ##