By Lade Jean Kabagani
MANILA – Around 85,000 individuals already enrolled online under the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa (BP2) program as the government ramps up efforts to assist residents in Metro Manila to have a fresh start in their provinces, BP2 Council Executive Director Marcelino Escalada Jr. said Tuesday.
Escalada, who is also general manager of the National Housing Authority (NHA), said they have been receiving a lot of applicants in the BP2 online, aside from the manual enrollment in the barangay level.
“These are all voluntary and willing applications of people in Metro Manila (so) our immediate response, kung sino yung gustong umalis, tutulungan ng gobyerno (whoever wants to leave, the government will help) using our own government funds, our existing budget, then we will be able to help them bring back the promise to return to their provinces,” Escalada said in “Mugstoria Ta” virtual presser.
He said the government is also eyeing to push for appropriations and proposals for the beneficiaries of the BP2 programs which will be rolled out by 2021 and 2022, which include employment, livelihood, as well as agricultural programs and other interventions that were not given to them in 2020.
“The rest is more on long-term, the creation of the urban centers, the centralization of powers and tax incentives, the creation of economic zones, provision of employment and many more will happen in the next five, seven or even ten years down the road,” he said.
The government has three strategy phases upon the implementation of the BP2 program, which are “immediate, mediate, as well as long-term interventions”.
Various partners will be soon involved in the implementation of the long-term programs, he said, such as the association of the mall owners, state/universities and colleges, urban planners and architects as well as chamber of commerce, by creating new government centers and urban centers, among others.
Escalada also proposed the inclusion of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and the Local Water Utilities Administration (LUWA) in the BP2 council.
These agencies, he said, are also important drivers of development.
“It cannot be housing and food always. Though these are requirements, still, there are enabling mechanisms within which a ‘bagong probinsya’ can take place,” he said.
Escalada cited the Duterte administration’s aggressive role in the campaign.
“(With) the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, we will trigger the developments and the term ends in 2022 and hopefully, the succeeding administration will propel the economic activities until we will be able to realize the end-game Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa program,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leyte Governor Leopoldo Petilla expressed his support on bringing back Leyteños to their province.
Petilla said the local government targets to enhance economic development and urge more Leyteños to go back to Leyte.
Preparedness of LGUs, compliance to protocols
Escalada, meanwhile, reiterated that the preparedness of receiving LGUs is considered in the implementation of the BP2 program.
“When we choose Leyte, we say, it’s not by chance, it’s by choice. Simply because there is also the readiness in the province of Leyte (so) while we are testing before the departure, there is also another level of the test upon arrival. That is mutual cooperation between the province of Leyte and the BP2 council,” Escalada said.
“The least of their worry (in Leyte) is the Balik Probinsya program because it (is) controlled, systematic, and orderly dispatch of passengers from Metro Manila to their provinces,” he added.
On June 11, another batch of BP2 program qualified beneficiaries is set to return to Leyte.
Escalada said the BP2 program is also complying with the national government’s health protocols and measures to prevent the local transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
The beneficiaries, he said, will be required to provide a certificate of clearance issued by local health officers before their departure.
Beneficiaries will also undergo a rapid antibody test for Covid-19, he said, once they are ready for embarkation going home to their provinces.
“On June 11, the Bureau of Quarantine will be onboard together with the Department of Health to test the blood samples of the beneficiaries whether it will yield negative or positive, using the antibody rapid test,” he said, adding that the beneficiaries will also be examined by DOH doctors before providing them “boarding passes.”
“To add again confidence, we will continue to employ the antibody rapid test to all our beneficiaries once they’re scheduled for dispatch,” he said.
Benefits of returning home
Escalada said under the “immediate response strategy,” the government will provide temporary relief assistance to the beneficiaries while they are “transitioning a new life in their provinces.”
BP2 beneficiaries will be given at least PHP15,000 under the employment facilitation support fund, he said.
Those who are traveling back with their families will be given a transportation allowance amounting to PHP35,000 and livelihood/employment cash assistance amounting to PHP15,000, to support the needs of pre-employment requirements or serve as a capital fund for the establishment a micro-enterprise.
A transitory family support package amounting to PHP70,000 will be provided to the household, he said, which is intended for food allowance, kitchen utensils, payment for the basic utility bills, school uniforms for their children, and others.
Through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Escalada added that beneficiaries will be provided a transitory shelter rental subsidy between six months to one year.
“That is enough period within which NHA will be able to plan (for housing units). After 12 months if I already proposed (budget) for 2021, then, we can start already our interventions,” he said, noting that most of the beneficiaries already have houses in their provinces.
He said the BP2 program has a tool to determine the needs of every beneficiary.
Enacting into law
Escalada emphasized the importance of creating legislation for the BP2 program, to ensure that the long-term benefits of the program are enjoyed both by the provinces and the beneficiaries themselves.
“The only option available for us is to make this more permanent, more stable, more lasting through legislation,” he said, adding that enacting BP2 into law will empower the local industry and the agricultural activities in the country.
Escalada proposed to establish regional development councils (RDCs) for the implementation of the BP2 program.
The RDCs and the created committees under that, he said, should be the responsible units to monitor and implement the projects under the BP2 program.
“The mandate of the RDCs is both the development of local and regional (so) swak na swak siya sa Balik Probinsya pagdating doon sa baba (it fits the Balik Probisya on the ground) and given the funding, given the project implementation, may sasalo na mechanism sa baba (the mechanism is ensured adapted on the ground) and that structure is the Regional Development Council to be created under one committee of the BP2, specific to rollout all the projects approved by the national level down to local,” Escalada said.
He noted that the BP2 program is a very good channel and an opportunity for countryside development.
“I think the time to start is now. And the people that should be involved are the people that are we talking to,” he said.
“Until the end of the year 2020, I hope to have 20,000 beneficiaries (and) 200,000 beneficiaries towards the end of the president’s term by 2022. But once it is legislated, you know what’s my forecast? It has to be 10 percent of the 12.5 million, at least 1.2 million people living in the urban centers of Metro Manila beyond the term of Mayor Rody will be able to find new hope in the province,” he said, when asked how many Filipinos are targeted to avail of the BP2 program.
Escalada said the objective of the BP2 program is pushing to strike a balance between urban development and regional development. (PNA)