MANILA – As the country rolls out effective health and political responses to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Thursday said it is high time for the national government to begin considering long-term actions in preparation for the “new normal” after the pandemic is over.
“Aside from responding to the immediate needs of the people, such as health care and social assistance at this time of crisis, 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,” he said.
The chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography said that among the most important steps that the government can take is to decongest Metro Manila and other metropolitan areas to lessen the chances of a resurgence of the disease, or the spread of another pandemic.
He pointed out 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 assist all affected constituents.
Go pointed out that the lack of urban planning and rural development has contributed to the spread of the virus in congested areas and has also affected the distribution of resources in different parts of the country.
“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,” he said.
“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.
(We could better appreciate what President Rodrigo Duterte has been long advocating, that we really needed to develop the other provinces to decongest Metro Manila. It is too crowded here, diseases can quickly spread. There are also a lot of people, it is very difficult to tend to everyone affected.)
Go proposes a “Balik-Probinsya” program that aims to assist Filipino families who wish to relocate to the provinces after the state of public health emergency and the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) measures are lifted.
The program includes providing incentives and livelihood opportunities to Filipinos who wish to go back to their respective provinces when the Covid-19 outbreak has been finally controlled.
“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 said.
Upon implementation, this strategy will also require local government units (LGUs) 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.
Go said this move would also 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 in additional resources for the countryside,” he said.
He said several local government 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.
“Nakikita na rin ng ibang mga LGUs na nahihirapan na silang alagaan ang lahat sa panahon ngayon ng Covid-19. Gusto na rin nilang umuwi ang mga informal settlers sa kanilang mga probinsya (Other LGUs are beginning to realize the difficulty of taking care of their constituents in this time of crisis. They also wanted informal settlers to return to their provinces),” Go said.
He admitted however that this will not be an easy feat given the massive preparations needed to be undertaken to implement the move in such limited time.
He said 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.
“Kung hindi natin ito aksyunan agad, hindi matatapos ang problema natin at lalong hindi mararamdaman ang development sa probinsya (If we do not immediately act on this, the problem will persist and development would not be achieved in the provinces),” Go said.
Go also encourages investors to bring their businesses to the province to spur development in the countryside, as gainful employment opportunities will now be already available where they live.
“Hahanapan natin ng paraan upang ganahan ang mga negosyanteng mag-invest o mag-expand sa mga probinsya para naroon na rin ang trabaho at hindi na kailangan ng mga Pilipino doon na magpunta pa sa Metro Manila at lumayo sa kanilang mga pamilya,” he said.
(We will find ways to encourage businessmen to invest or expand in the provinces so that employment opportunities are already there and Filipinos do not have to go to Metro Manila and be separated from their families.)
“Kami po ni Pangulong Duterte ay probinsiyano rin. Taga-Davao po kami. Doon po kami lumaki at tulad ng ibang mga probinsyano, doon rin namin nais bumalik pagkatapos ng aming pagseserbisyo sa bayan (President Duterte and I are from the province. We are both from Davao. We grew up there, and like other people from the provinces, that is where we wanted to go back after our stint in public service),” Go said.
Meanwhile, Go urged government agencies and private donors to add fruits, vegetables, and other fresh agri-fishery products to relief packs being distributed to communities, instead of only processed and canned goods.
He said such move not only provides better nutrition to Filipino families and boost their immune system against Covid-19 and other diseases but also protects the welfare of Filipino farmers and make farm produce available to poor communities amid the ongoing ECQ.
“Hindi tayo mabubuhay lang sa instant noodles at mga delata. Bigyan rin natin ng sariwang gulay at prutas ang mga apektadong tao. Napapabuti na natin ang kanilang kalusugan, natutulungan pa natin ang ating mga magsasaka (We cannot live on instant noodles alone. We should also give affected families fresh vegetables and fruits. We not only improving their health, but we are also helping our farmers),” Go said.
hee urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to continuously lead in facilitating and catalyzing partnerships with commercial and institutional buyers to source out agricultural produce directly from farmers and fishermen, including LGUs, for their food pack distribution programs.
To date, the DA has institutionalized the Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita, a marketing strategy of the DA that links the farmers to direct buyers and to the consumers.
With programs like Kadiwa on Wheels, Kadiwa Online, Oh My Gulay, and IsDA on the GO, the food accessibility and affordability challenges posed by the ECQ can be immediately addressed.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act has also authorized the government to resort to more expedient procurement processes because of the urgent need to purchase goods and services amid the Covid-19 health emergency.
The LGUs, other government agencies, and institutional buyers are encouraged to directly negotiate with farmer-cooperatives and associations.
“Now, more than ever, let us do what we can to help Filipinos in need. Let us support our farmers and ensure that our people are not hungry. Pinilit po natin silang manatili sa bahay, siguraduhin nating may sapat silang pagkain para mabuhay ng matiwasay (We forced them to stay at home, we must now ensure that they have enough food to live in security),” Go said. (PNA)