‘Balik Probinsya’: A distraction or palliative to Covid? Philippine Star

‘Balik Probinsya’: A distraction or palliative to Covid? Featured

A GRUESOME silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic is probably resuscitating a program that past administrations decades back only paid lip service to and never had the gumption nor the political will to implement: “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” (BP2)! If memory serves, even Imelda Marcos, the flip side to the conjugal dictatorship, only succeeded in leaving a similar concept behind, encapsulated as a haunting slogan. It was not altruism that moved her but her overarching notions of “what could be beautiful.” It was during the 5th International Monetary Fund-World Bank Conference in Manila in 1976 when the dictatorship wanted to show a “beautiful face” as its coming-out party after the 1972 martial law declaration. Central to BP2’s concept was to decongest the slums of Metro Manila, a blight which should be hidden from sight of the world’s bankers, financiers and economists who were here for the conference. What better program than to send back these dregs of society from whence they came.

Depopulate the slums

People are therefore wary of another “balik probinsya” (back to the province) initiative sprung at this critical time involving the same slums of Metro Manila as a panacea to the pandemic. Introduced on April 24 by President Rodrigo “Deegong” Roa Duterte’s (PRRD) favorite senator, echoing similar imeldific and tired old arguments seeking to “decongest overcrowded Metro Manila, providing incentives and livelihood opportunities to Filipinos who wish to return to their respective provinces….” Same old, same old. Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go simply filled in the blanks — that the lack of urban planning and rural development is one of the reasons why the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is spreading fast in the country’s metropolis — as if it was something new. Adding further: “As soon as the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted and travel is gradually normalized, the government must encourage Filipino families to move out of Manila and other metropolitan areas. Government must provide them the means and incentives to go back to the provinces for good.”

EO 114

But what did the President really promulgate? Executive Order (EO) 114 institutionalized the program to “…ensure balanced regional development and equitable distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities through policies and programs that boost countryside development and inclusive growth; provide adequate social services; and promote full employment, industrialization and an improved quality of life in rural areas.”

This is simply a rehash of the Philippine Medium-Term Development Plan drawn up years ago. Ask the acting National Economic and Development Authority secretary; he should know. This is partly what we the Centrist Democrats have been demanding these past years — and more — which then candidate Deegong promised under the banner of federalism, which he then subsequently dropped as president. But don’t get me wrong. Many Davaoeños and Mindanawnons have issues against Imperial Manila, that for generations has been sucking the lifeblood of those in the periphery. And indeed, we want to go back to the provinces. We therefore support the BP2 but not on terms dictated by the central government, dammit! But on equitable conditions. On provisions where people from Mindanao, the Visayas and the less favored provinces of Luzon have a say. We understand, for the shortsighted, you want to get rid of the “pasaway” unable to observe physical distancing, precipitating the spread of the contagion. Fine. But this is just an elitist solution — shades of Imelda — to decongest, depopulate by sending them back, pronto, from their hovels to their probinsiya, where Covid-19 can wreak havoc, easing pressure on the imperial capital.

Bottom up and decentralization

But we people from the fringes, especially from Davao and Mindanao, have our own ideas too. To reiterate, we no longer welcome palliatives, band-aid solutions and motherhood statements. If federalism is too complicated, then we try autonomy and decentralization. Not just delegation of powers from the center — which can be rebuked on whim. It does not work that way. But if the central government advances the alibi that time is of the essence, then we negotiate. First, involve the planning of our hands-on provincial governors and key local government executives, not just the senators and congressmen and Malacañang bright boys. Any top-down planning and execution, even if the main sponsor is a Davaoeño, is bound to fail. Convert this sloganeering into real working programs by transparently harnessing the full strength of government, making sure that beneficiaries understand the ramifications for them to buy into. They need to trust that the government can make this sustainable, pouring in the wherewithal to make it worthwhile for them. And to let them appreciate that this is not an imeldific solution and that the whole process takes a little more time than that targeted to start upon the lifting of the ECQ or modified ECQ. And above all, this program is not principally to get them out of their slums, sterilize Metro Manila and throw them to the slums in the probinsya, but it is to provide them decent lives and fresh start.

What to do

Since BP2 is predicated on post-lockdowns, the government must therefore focus on the prompt and safe reopening of the economy. Vietnam, New Zealand, Taiwan and even South Korea managed their morbidity through a particular accepted system, recommended by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “testing, tracing, and treatment (isolation/hospitalization).” This is where the Deegong should focus his energy, money and resources now as top priority. Put BP2 as an adjunct.

Lockdowns have proven to be effective up to a certain point, beyond which they become counterproductive. Studies show that in our eight-week lockdown, approximately 32 million workers were out of jobs and household expenditures, accounting for 68 percent of the economy, estimated at P2 trillion, are taken off the economy (Tony Lopez, CEO Biz News Asia). The government is running out of cash. In short, for the 800 Filipino deaths so far, the economic costs are staggering, driving the living to miserable lives, possibly lifelong poverty, business bankruptcy and, perhaps to some, despair and suicide. The government must carefully weigh the trade-off — survival of the 105 million Filipinos as against an acceptable percentage of morbidity. This is President Duterte’s call. No one else’s. In the recognized concept of triage, the leadership must so decide to sacrifice a lesser number for the greater good. Has the Deegong the stomach to allow 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 deaths to save 105 million souls?

The presidency at the top is a lonely job. Duterte’s type of alpha male leadership is not conducive for his subalterns to advance workable ideas. Creative ideas I fear are not generated during this critical juncture, as they need to undergo the crucible of debate by people who have the courage to confront him. Doable and creative ideas are fought upon and shaped, not imposed. PRRD by these precepts is exhausted and approaching his level of incompetence. The Filipino audience has been witnesses to his TV performances of late, showing him distracted, making him vulnerable and susceptible to slogans like BP2 — an appropriate solution for a long-term problem with an even longer gestation period. What is needed are solutions to problems of the here and now… not of later. I fervently hope Duterte sees his way clear through this.000
Read 497 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 May 2020 07:53
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