MANILA – The Senate on Monday adopted a resolution, sponsored by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, urging the Executive Department to formulate and implement a “Balik Probinsya” program that aims to decongest Metro Manila, promote more robust regional development, and encourage equitable distribution of wealth, livelihood opportunities, and economic growth nationwide.
The proposal also aims to better prepare the country in responding to future pandemics and other crises similar to the present coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
In his sponsorship speech, Go said the Covid-19 pandemic “has exposed and brought to the surface many of our country’s perennial problems, including congestion in our urban centers, particularly in Metro Manila.”
“Such problem results in a whole lot of other issues, including poverty, economic inequality, traffic jams, environmental issues, among others,” he said. “More importantly, overcrowding in Metro Manila makes it more difficult to contain diseases here, putting us all at risk for future pandemics.”
He cited data from the Department of Health showing that as of May 1, 2020, of the total 8,772 COVID-19 infection cases, NCR registered a total of 5,968 cases, representing 68% of the country’s total.
Go’s resolution also cited a study of the Asian Development Bank tagging Metro Manila as the most congested natural city in Asia with a population greater than five million.
The traffic congestion alone costs the economy PHP3.5 billion a day and the situation can get worse at P5.4 billion a day by the year 2035 if interventions will not be made, according to another study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Such overcrowding, he said, predisposes Metro Manila to disease outbreaks and makes it harder for the government to contain pandemics in the national capital.
“Given the nature of the virus and the manner by which it is spread between individuals, highly dense communities in Metro Manila explain why nearly seven out of ten infected Filipinos are found in the nation’s capital,” he said.
To alleviate congestion in the metropolis, he then highlighted the need to improve the quality of life in the country and improve access to quality social services, especially in rural areas, through a “Balik Probinsya” program.
“The proposed program is envisioned as a multi-sectoral comprehensive program to decongest Metro Manila by helping stranded workers and OFWs, assisting people who want to relocate to the provinces, and encouraging people to settle down in the provinces for good,” he added.
The “Balik Probinsiya” program will also encourage informal settlers and those living in danger areas to move out of Metro Manila and go back to their home provinces by providing them with decent housing, easier access to key services, nearby schools, job and livelihood opportunities and even small-business support in the grassroots level, among others.
“Kasi kami pong mga probinsyano, we are always fascinated na dito sa Maynila maganda, kumpleto rito, nandirito na lahat. Pero ngayon, gaya ng sinabi ni Senator Gordon, 8 out top 10 po na pumasa sa Bar (exams), they came from the provinces,” Go said.
He added that the delivery of social services was also adversely affected due to workers being stranded in Metro Manila during the enhance community quarantine (ECQ) while their families are in the provinces.
“Alam ninyo po, isa rin po sa mga dahilan kaya maraming hindi nakakatanggap ng mga Social Amelioration dahil ‘yung iba po ay nandun sa probinsya ang kanilang mga pamilya, habang nagtatrabaho sila dito (One reason why there are many beneficiaries of the social amelioration is many are working in Metro Manila with families living in the provinces),” Go said, adding that many stranded workers at construction sites want to go home.
Senator Richard Gordon manifested his support to the resolution.
“Sana po, sa pamamagitan ng Balik Probinsya Program, mabigyan ng bagong pag-asa ang mga Pilipino na makakabangon muli pagkatapos malampasan ang krisis na ito. Magbayanihan po tayo (The objective of the Balik Probinsya Program is to give hope to Filipinos to recover and get over this present health crisis. Let us help each other),” Go said.
“Together, let us heal as one and give Filipinos ‘hope’ for a better tomorrow,” he added. (ia/PR)