‘BALIK PROBINSYA’ PROGRAM
By: Atty. Euney Marie Mata-Perez on June 4,2020
I am a probinsiyana. I was born in Cebu City, my mother’s home city. I partly grew up there, as well as in Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte, my father’s home province. I have beautiful memories growing up in Dipolog.
As someone who has lived in Metro Manila for more than 30 years now, I saw how it has developed and become so congested, and how cities in the provinces (with the exception of some major ones, like Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro cities) did not progress as much and continued to lag behind developmentally. According to the National Statistics Office, the National Capital Region accounted for 36 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 and has a population of 12.8 million people, or 12.8 percent of the total.
Because of the lure of easier money in big cities, many leave the farming life and flock to these urban centers. Of course, this comes with a whole set of problems — pollution, lack of housing, inadequate sanitation, lack of transportation and many more, all of which make the lives of some of those in the cities oppressive and unbearable. This has also resulted in an unequal distribution of geographic wealth, as well as unbalanced regional development.
We are learning that this migration and crowding have made living in cities dangerous when there are pandemics, as demonstrated by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
For this reason, the government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” (BP2) program is laudable.
This program is geared toward addressing Metro Manila’s congested urban areas by encouraging people, especially informal settlers, to return to their home province and help them in this transition by providing support and incentives on transportation, family, livelihood, housing, subsistence and education, among others. President Rodrigo Duterte institutionalized this program with Executive Order (EO) 114. This order also created an inter-agency council to craft policies and programs and oversee the BP2’s implementation.
It was announced that six provinces, including Zamboanga del Norte, have been identified as pilot beneficiaries of the program. The others are Leyte, Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, North Cotabato and Camarines Sur. Mindanao Development Authority Chairman Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol is spearheading and working closely with local government units in the Mindanao provinces on this test phase.
BP2 has attracted so many probinsiyanos who applied through its website (https://balikprobinsya.ph). It was also reported on the website that after two weeks of preparations and consultations for the implementation of the program, the first batch of beneficiaries were sent to their home province of Leyte on May 20.
Besides supporting the agriculture sector and encouraging people to go back to farming, investors should be encouraged to set up their businesses in the provinces to create jobs, as well.
Thus, more incentives shall be given to those who intend to relocate to the provinces, or outside urbanized areas. The proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act seeks an additional two years of incentives and one-year additional income tax holiday for agribusiness or businesses outside Metro Manila and identified under the Strategic Investments Priorities Plan. Such incentives also extended to less-developed areas and areas recovering from armed conflicts and natural disasters, as well as those enterprises relocating from Metro Manila and other highly urbanized areas. However, there should be a confluence of many factors. Some of these are:
– Infrastructure. Businesses need to be able to ship goods expeditiously. This means there should be good infrastructure, including airports, ports and farm-to-market roads. The government should thus make good on its Build, Build, Build program.
– Skilled labor. Industries or investors will move outside Metro Manila if they are assured of a steady supply of skilled laborers. This is why business process outsourcing (BPO) firms willingly relocated to cities with good universities like Cebu and Negros Oriental province’s Dumaguete City. Thus, the development of skills and efficient work attitudes are key.
– Peace and security. The government should be able to assure businesses that they would be operating in a peaceful environment, free from armed conflict and threat from lawless elements.
– Ease in doing business and absence of corruption from local officials. Local governments should support all businesses relocating to their areas, ensure ease of doing business (timely issuances of permits, no red tape, etc.), and ensure the absence of or freedom from corruption in state processes.
Good urban planning is also a key factor. We see many provincial cities becoming congested and beginning to face traffic and pollution problems.
While the action items I wrote above seem to be a tall order, they are not impossible to do if there is political will and our people and government officials are sincere.
The coronavirus pandemic has opened the eyes of our people to so many things, such as the importance of public health service, personal health, and sanitation, to name a few. It also encouraged, and continues to encourage, many people to go back to their provincial roots and make a living there. It is just about time and right for the government to support this migration. BP2 will definitely play a pivotal part. We wish for its success.