SENATOR Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go clarified that the proposal for the national government to prepare ‘Balik-Probinsya’ programs to be implemented after the COVID-19 crisis to decongest Metro Manila and boost development in other regions, is a long-term solution that needs to be properly planned with the full commitment of all government agencies and the private sector.
“(Balik-Probinsya) is a long-term plan to encourage them na bumalik sa ating probinsya. Kailangang pag-aralan at planuhin ito nang mabuti kung paano sila bigyan ng kabuhayan. Hindi ito immediate na ngayon (i-implement) kasi may mga quarantine protocols pa tayo na sinusunod,” Go said.
“Right now, our priority is to manage the pandemic. Nirerespeto natin itong ECQ, GCQ guidelines. Ang primary purpose ng mga iyan ay to manage and overcome this present crisis,” he added.
Go, however, pointed out that the government must already prepare for the next steps to be taken for the country to be able to better adapt to the “new normal” after the COVID-19 crisis. His proposal came after recognizing that the high density of communities in Metro Manila accelerates the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and also slows down the efficiency of the government to provide assistance to all affected constituents.
“Ngayon, mas nararamdaman natin ang matagal nang pinupunto ng Pangulo na kailangan talaga i-develop ang iba pang probinsiya para mabawasan ang tao sa Metro Manila. Masyadong masikip dito, mabilis kumalat ang sakit. Masyado ring maraming tao, hirap na hirap tayong maalagaan lahat ng apektado,” Go said.
Go, who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, pointed out that around 70% of COVID-19 cases in the country are in Metro Manila and the high density of communities has been a perennial problem for many decades already.
“Planuhin na po natin itong ‘Balik-Probinsya’ program. Matagal na rin po natin itong naririnig na problema. Dikit-dikit po ang mga bahay kaya nasusunugan... Kotse, dikit-dikit, may malalang traffic... Pati mga tao, dikit-dikit, kaya tayo nagkakahawaan sa COVID-19,” he explained.
Go also mentioned that President Rodrigo Duterte himself supports the program. “Sumang-ayon naman po si Pangulong Duterte sa programa. Marami tayong natutunan sa krisis na ito.”
During a televised speech, President Rodrigo Duterte and other executive agencies have expressed support for Go’s proposal, saying that starting fresh in the provinces would give Filipinos "hope” for a better tomorrow.
“Maganda ‘yan, Bong. Going home to the province would help and would mean going back there... we would give them hope. Importante ‘yan eh… some of them might really leave the city of Manila or its environment with a heavy heart. But we have to provide the transportation. What is really very important is we give them hope. It’s very important, ‘yung hope ng tao,” the President remarked.
To encourage the private sector to invest in the provinces, the Department of Trade and Industry said that it would provide incentives for businesses that will open in the provinces. The government will also provide financial assistance and affordable loans to those who seek to open micro, small or medium enterprises in the provinces.
“Maraming sumasang-ayon na ilagay na rin ang national offices sa probinsya. Papakinggan natin ‘yan para ma-decongest ang Metro Manila. Maraming probinsya ang may potensyal... tingnan mo paligid niya, green ang lugar, presko ang hangin at maraming lupa na pwedeng paglagyan ng iba't ibang negosyo. Hindi pa ganoon kasikip,” he said.
Go said that the program is now being studied by the government. “Kasalukuyan na pong pinag-aaralan ang mga hakbang para ma-implement ito sa tamang panahon pagkatapos nitong COVID-19 crisis. As legislator, inaaral ko rin anong legislative action ang kailangan to support the program.”
The Senator pointed out that the decongestion of Metro Manila will eventually help solve long-standing issues of overpopulation, heavy traffic, pollution, as well as in preparing for future possible disease outbreaks, other crises and natural disasters.
Despite its booming economy, Go also cited that the Philippines remains a largely agricultural country with plenty of idle lands in the countryside that can be developed.
“The government may facilitate the utilization of some of these idle lands for the productive use of people who will be relocated from Metro Manila and other metropolitan areas,” he suggested.
“Coupled with tax reforms and more aggressive support for MSME development, the government may be able to create a business environment conducive for more investments in the countryside,” he explained.
By linking up with higher educational institutions and technical and skills development centers, Go further recommended that rural areas can readily provide the needed human resource for new businesses in their communities.
"Sa 'Balik Probinsya' program, hindi lang natin naiiwasan ang mas mabilis na pagkalat ng sakit. This proposal is also about equitable distribution of the gains of our fast developing economy, balanced development of the urban and rural areas and poverty alleviation," Go added.