"The architects of the Balik Probinsiya program may be considered recidivists."
The government has put in place a Balik Probinsiya program as part of its strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Under the program, the government will pay the back-to-the-province fare – plus some journey money – of Filipinos rendered jobless by the pandemic.
This government initiative is not the first of its kind: there have been similar initiatives in past times that have partaken of economic crisis and/or social displacement. The idea underlying the present Balik Probinsiya and its predecessors is that, having been assisted to return to their provincial origins, the workers and their families will remain there.
Unfortunately, as in the past, this is not likely to be the case. In due course the Balik Probinsiyanos will make their way back to the NCR (National Capital Region), Calabarzon and Central Luzon. These regions together account for most of the employment opportunities in this country. In the end, it will be as though the government paid for the vacation-back-home of most of the workers and their families.
In this regard, the architects of the Balik Probinsiya program may be considered recidivists. They know that there will be no income opportunities or livelihoods waiting for most of the returnees, yet they keep sending them back to the provinces at government expense. There are no hard numbers to show what percentages of Balik Probinsiyanos have eventually re-migrated back to Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces, but it is probably safe to say that the percentages are large.
For Balik Probinsiya programs to achieve their objective, there have to be better-life possibilities waiting for the workers and their families in their home provinces. A program that simply places the workers and their families on probinsiya-bound ships and buses, with nothing awaiting them at their destinations, is a pointless exercise; it is a waste of public funds.
Given the hardships and privations of living in urban environment, and considering the lower cost of living in the provinces, most low-income probinsiyanos probably would opt to go back home and stay there if given the choice. The great majority of them moved to the big city in search of opportunities for improved living, with steady and reasonably remunerative incomes. But when the improved living conditions are not to be found – or disappear, as in the present crisis –they welcome an opportunity to go back to their provinces of origin.
Once they are back home, the displaced workers will consider remaining there if it is economically possible for them to do so. That, after all, is the object of a Balik Probinsiya exercise.
There have to be income opportunities awaiting displaced and jobless workers in the provinces to which they return. These opportunities need not be in services, commerce and manufacturing only; they also can be in agriculture. The key phrase is “new businesses.” Businessmen who hitherto have been fixated on NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon, should begin to look further afield and make investments in the many promising cities and localities of this country. It is an established fact that when a new business – a mall or a resort or a fastfood place – opens its doors in a provincial city or town, investments fever is generated. All that is needed, in every instance, is a catalyst. It’s amazing what wonders the mere opening of an SM mall has done for a slow-moving provincial city.
The government must not just throw jobless and displaced Filipinos back to their provinces. There has to be planning and preparation for what needs to follow. The frontline departments in this regard – the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Tourism and the Department of Public Works and Highways – should coordinate or work closely with the LGUs (local government units) toward the creation of new economic opportunities in the provinces. Balik Probinsiya has to be a multi-agency exercise.
Balik Probinsiya cannot be only about paying for the return-home fares of displaced Filipino workers and their families. It has to be about making them want to stay home.