Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has appealed to the national government to prepare “balik probinsiya” programs by providing incentives and livelihood opportunities to Filipinos who wish to relocate to the provinces after the state of public health emergency and the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) measures are lifted amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Let us prepare for a ‘new normal’ and one of the most important measures is the relocation of people to the provinces,” Go said.
He stressed that the effort to decongest Metro Manila is becoming relevant now more than ever as the country struggles to contain the further spread of COVID-19.
Go said that the high density of communities in Metro Manila amplifies 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.
Aside from responding to the immediate needs of the people, such as health care and social assistance at this time of crisis, he said the government must also put importance on long-term solutions to current problems that have adversely affected the country’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Go pointed out that the lack of urban planning and rural development has in some way contributed to the spread of the virus in congested areas and has also affected the distribution of resources in different parts of the country.
He stressed that when the time comes that the enhanced community quarantine can already be lifted, the government should be ready to move Filipino families out of Metro Manila by providing them the means and incentives to finally move back to the provinces.
According to Go, if this move becomes a national priority, it would require the government to provide transportation and livelihood options to those who have agreed to go back to their provinces for good.
He suggested that this initiative must be implemented only when the COVID-19 outbreak has been controlled. Upon implementation, this strategy will also require local government units to enforce necessary quarantine measures and mass testing for COVID-19 to ensure that those who will be relocated will not be carriers of the disease.
He further said that this move would make it easier for national agencies and LGUs to provide assistance to Filipino families when necessary since government resources will be scattered and equitably distributed to the regions. In effect, it will unburden overpopulated LGUs and would also result to additional resources for the countryside.
He recognizes the fact that this will not be an easy feat given the massive preparations needed to be undertaken to implement the move in such limited time.
However, he emphasized that decongesting Metro Manila and other metropolitan areas has to be done immediately to put an end to recurring problems such as worsening traffic, uneven development, poor sanitation, poor health care and overpopulation in urban areas.
A number of LGU officials have already echoed this recommendation as the number of informal settlers in urban areas continues to grow.
This problem has been more pronounced when COVID-19 hit the country.
In addition, Go is also encouraging investors to bring their businesses to the province.
This will further encourage development in the countryside because gainful employment opportunities will already be available where they live./Stacy Ang