OPINION: Balik Probinsya – Dead on Arrival

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jul 04 2020 01:18 AM

Emphatically, not the Promdi/Probinsyanos who are now categorized under a new Covid-19 nomenclature: “Locally-stranded individuals” or LSI. Nope, not them. It is President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 114. This Executive Order looks DOA to me!

EO 114 is “Intitutionalizing the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa Program as a Pillar of Balanced Regional Development.” Among its eleven justifying “Whereases,” we find statements like: “the epicenters of Covid-19 pandemic in the Philippines are located in the NCR;” as well as “to decongest the NCR and direct growth to key centers throughout the country.” Incidentally, EO 114 is also nicknamed BP-BP or BP2. A cousin to BBB/Build, Build, Build, wouldn’t you say? Same fate?

Let us face it, even without a pandemic, the need to decongest Metro Manila and to effectively redistribute economic opportunities more equitably as far away removed from the metropolis has long been foreseen as existential. Yet, beyond lip service and ill-conceived panacea, Metro Manila remains in chaotic self-strangulation, without relief in sight.

So recent a publicity-profuse event, it is not difficult to recall what the ‘Balik Probinsya’ program was all about, in the first place. It is yet another pet scheme of Sen. Bong Go. And, an abiding President Duterte institutionalized it through an Executive Order as “part of the government’s effort to curb the spread of coronavirus disease by decongesting Metro Manila.”

No sooner had the Official Gazette announced it (May 6), the EO was declared suspended on June 11, without indicating any date of resumption. Notably, without even being able to formulate the operating guidelines “within thirty (30) days,” as the EO mandates. Incidentally, the EO calls for constituting a “Balik Probinsya, Balik Pag-asa Council,” (BP2 Council) headed by the Executive Secretary. The yet to be organized body is in reality a supra Cabinet, a sheer duplication of the President’s existing Cabinet composition. Another superfluous overlay! How very ‘government!’

Complaints from local government units were immediately loud and clear. Among the “returnees” availing of the BP2-provided free transportation were Covid-19 virus carriers. Specifically, Region VIII (Samar-Leyte) which had successfully staved off any spread at all, soon experienced new cases and an alarming spike. The local authorities were unequivocal in pointing fingers at Bong Go’s “Balik Probinsya.” They had unimpeachable proof, too.

Malacanang, on the other hand, did not state that such resurgence of infections was the cause of EO 114’s suspension. The fact, however, is that Covid-19 epicenters have moved away from the National Capital Region to the southern regions and that BP2 has been halted.

EO 114 also speaks of “reverse migration to NCR” and the “uncontrolled upsurge of population.” In order to achieve these goals, BP2 seeks to “introduce a sustainable program for public sector investment and private sector participation that promotes regional development.” If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is the same dog with a different collar. To me, it is yet an iteration of earlier initiatives that have failed to redistribute development opportunities, while Metro Manila bloats.

The government, administration after administration, has been in the business of developing Special Economic Zones (SEZ). We even have a permanent agency under the Department of Trade and Industry exclusively dedicated to the endeavor of developing (and operating in some) of these special economic zones.

While the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) is not specifically mandated to decongest Metro Manila, the thrust of locating export-oriented manufacturing investments and business process outsourcing operations also possessed the ability to develop the vicinities where they are located.

SEZs are triggers for regional economic development. Nonetheless, over the many decades of having more than 350 such SEZs scattered all over the Philippines, Metro Manila's population has been ballooning. In other words, decongestion has not materialized.

It does appear incredulous that while the current dispensation wishes to appear truly concerned about overpopulation and decongestion via BP2, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority has announced its ambition to expand the chaos into a Mega Manila, as the solution to metropolitan malaise!

Instead of de-magnetizing Metro Manila, it is obvious that favored friends of political power wielders continue to salivate at the “gold mines” they can dig out of Manila Bay reclamation projects. The last I heard, there are 22 reclamation projects being planned along Manila Bay, with dozens more crony-wannabes queuing up. Even the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) had to admit that these “will affect – and likely pollute,” intensifying and aggravating, the Bay’s unconquered flotsam and jetsam.

One is led to wonder what motivation inspired Duterte’s Malacanang to transfer the PRA from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to be directly under the Office of the President.

And lest we forget, there too was an earlier Bong Go-inspired project enacted into law. It was signed by President Duterte just before Christmas last year. The Malasakit Center Law (R.A. 11463). Remember? There was attendant ballyhoo celebrating Bong Go. It was established to “provide convenient access to quality healthcare for every Filipino.” It was to be “a one-stop shop for all government and financial assistance for all Filipinos, particularly the poor and indigent patients.”

In the pandemic’s wake, ‘Malasakit’ is MIA, missing in action! Another DOA? But wait, its author is ubiquitous in all televised meetings of Covid-19’s Inter-Agency Task Force, evidently for more publicity and exposure. Indeed, there is pattern and purpose in all these self-promotional and serial name-recognition and recall maneuvers.

Calculated, self-aggrandizing political projects masquerading as socio-economic ameliorative gimmickry is oftentimes a formula for failure. It is not unusual for such ideas to be exhibits of knee-jerk opportunism. It is also not unusual that, sooner or later, it backfires! Dead on Arrival!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.