"The well-intentioned bill faces challenges."
The title of this piece refers to the President’s latest executive order that promulgates a new “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” (BP2) program, about which I also wrote here some weeks back before the EO itself was issued.
EO 114 is a well-intentioned program that reflects Duterte’s “heart for the people.” Its stated objective is to “ensure balanced regional development and equitable distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities.” Most recently, we were reminded of the consequences of imbalance by the ravages of the coronavirus.
Although the national capital region (NCR) accounts for only some 15 percent of the population, it comprises some 70 percent of the economy and posted as much as 75 percent of COVID infections. With NCR hit hardest by the virus, the effect on the country’s economic performance was disproportionate. Thus it’s difficult to gainsay the need to disperse the country’s population and economic growth.
Unfortunately, EO 114 still faces some challenges. Government is clearly willing to spend money in order to lure many residents of Metro Manila back to their home provinces. But the challenge is left
unanswered: How do we keep them there once government largesse runs out?
The answer can be found in this simple chain of reasoning:
People won’t stay in the provinces unless there are jobs. Jobs won’t appear unless investors put in their money. Investors won’t risk their money without the basics of a hospitable business environment: reliable power supply, roads, Internet access, basic utilities, a trainable work force, and a cooperative local government. And providing all of these basics is the job of government—especially the mayors and the governors, working together with the regional directors of national government agencies as their colleagues in the so-called regional development councils (RDCs).
Building upon this logic, my comrades pushing for Constitutional reforms argue that our local executives need to be coordinated by pumping up the RDC’s into a new regional level of governance. We’ve all heard those sad stories about how national policies against the virus often fell apart when it came to local implementation. And because the virus affected different regions to different degrees—thus, the gamut of quarantines ranging from ECQ to new normal—each region should be able to build its own healthcare infra and manage the health risk in its own way.
Pushing such regional governance will also help to efficiently manage the flood of additional IRA funds to the LGUs once the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling is implemented. These considerations are behind an ongoing campaign by civil society—with the assistance of government agencies like DILG—to solicit at least 1 million signatures, with a stretch target of 2 million, hopefully in time for the President’s SONA in July.
The reform agenda also includes electoral reforms and opening up the economy to more foreign direct investment. Electoral reforms include putting an end to party-switching and dynasties, which seems to scare our politicians, many of them in Congress. And more foreign investors are sorely needed if we want more investments to pour into the provinces to create the jobs needed to lure people away from Manila.
Unfortunately—though perhaps expectedly--some of our senators are either unable or unwilling to appreciate this. In particular, Senators Drilon and Pangilinan—the FranKiko tag team of the LP-led opposition—are complaining about how we ought to be paying attention instead to the fight against COVID—as if EO 114 weren’t part of that fight. If they think that, say, the ABS-CBN franchise is worthier of their legislative attention, they ought to tell us how this franchise helps defeat the virus.
FranKiko complain that resources are being diverted away from the virus war. They ought to know that the signature campaign in support of Constitutional reforms is being done online, mainly by civil society organizations associated with the “CoRe” movement headed by former Masbate Governor Vince Revil. Online campaigns cost very little. They’re certainly cheaper than, say, building your own brand-new Senate office building.
Do our people deserve better than the knee-jerk opposition of some senators? Sign up with our campaign if you agree.
To close: I’m hoping that the IATF-Covid will reconsider its guideline to limit religious gatherings to only five people under MECQ, and ten people under GCQ. Presumably this refers only to indoor gatherings, since there should be no limit on outdoor gatherings now that outdoor exercise is permitted even under ECQ (subject of course to the usual social distancing and personal hygiene protocols).
This restriction on freedom of worship is inconsistent with the latitude that has been given to other kinds of indoor gatherings under MECQ, specifically those in a work setting. The guidelines allow various industries to open under 50 percent and even full capacities. In the latter category are, for example, media companies and BPO shops. How can packing all those people indoors, air-conditioned, for eight to nine hours a day be healthier than Mass attendance for at most one hour, in churches that generally don’t have air-con?
The Church is doing its share to accommodate the “new normal.” The Archdiocese of Manila has come up with draconian new guidelines for religious services. No more handshakes for the sign of peace, no more taking the Eucharist directly into the mouth, no more kissing of icons or blessing with holy water. Weddings and baptisms have been limited to just one pair of sponsors. At least half an hour between every Mass so the church can be properly disinfected. The Sunday Mass obligation can be fulfilled even on weekdays, and even the Mass itself is being shortened to minimize the time people spend in church.
It might be argued that BPO shops have economic value, while churches don’t. But the charitable services provided by churches also have economic value, which is the main reason they’re tax-exempt. I would add that science-based fairness of treatment is also important. And most of all, for Catholics, is the central importance of physically receiving the Eucharist—a sacrament by which the Christific sacrifice is not just “symbolized” or “reenacted”, but actually takes place, again and again, outside of space or time, in a continuous renewal of His covenant to His people.
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