Duterte approves 'Balik Probinsya' to help decongest Metro Manila amid crisis

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 6) - President Rodrigo Duterte signed on Wednesday an executive order institutionalizing the "Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program," which aims to decongest Metro Manila and promote growth in the regions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Executive Order No. 114, the epicenters of the pandemic in the country are in densely populated areas within the national capital region, which has seen a continuous upsurge in population.

This "brings to the fore longstanding issues on the lack of viable and sustainable employment opportunities in the countryside," the executive order said.

In response, the President established the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Council to ensure a whole-of-government approach to drive inclusive growth and development in the country's regions.

“The State shall ensure balanced regional development and equitable distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities through policies and programs that boost countryside development and inclusive growth, provide adequate social services, and promote full employment, industrialization and an improved quality of life in rural areas,” EO 114 said.

The Council will be chaired by the Executive Secretary, Salvador Medialdea, with the current Socioeconomic Planning Secretary, Karl Kendrick Chua, as vice-chairperson.

The Council is tasked to formulate guidelines necessary in implementing the program, and must "identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote balanced regional development and recommend to the Congress the enactment of such reforms into law."

It must also engage, consult and coordinate with local government units to formulate policies and implement components of the program.

"The Council shall submit to the President, a bi-annual report on the implementation of this Order, including its accomplishments in terms of short, medium and long term goals and budget utilization," the executive order said.

Funds needed for the programs, activities or projects under the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program will come from sources identified by the Department of Budget and Management or charged against existing appropriations of member agencies of the Council, while funding requirements for the succeeding years shall be included in the respective budgets of government agencies implementing the program.

The Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program was re-introduced by Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go.

The program was first proposed by The National Convergence Initiatives for Sustainable Rural Development, and was implemented by then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.