Govt sees up to 1 million people taking part in 'Balik Probinsiya' program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — The government is projecting up to a million people will take advantage of its "Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa" Program designed to decongest Metro Manila and promote growth in the regions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Housing Authority General Marcelino Escalada Jr. told the Laging Handa briefing on Tuesday that thousands have already applied since they started accepting online applications on May 8.

"We started our online application last Friday... In a matter of four days, we are able to get 5,000 enrollees already," Escalada said. "So sobrang dami. Sabi ko nga...if this will be the figure, there will be exponential enrollees every now and then.

"Perhaps we can hit a figure in the next six months, one million of residents of Metro Manila who would like to enroll," added Escalada, who is also the executive director of the "Balik Probinsya" program, which approved by President Duterte early this month.

He named the provinces which have so far expressed interest in welcoming residents wanting to relocate outside of Metro Manila: Leyte, Camarines Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Pangasinan, and Quirino

Escalada stressed the program is voluntary.

"Hindi ito pwersahan [No one will be forced]," he said. "This is a voluntary action by anybody living in Manila right now na after a year or two, or even 10 years na gusto nilang bumalik [who want to go back]. So we will facilitate the return of these kababayan natin from Metro Manila to the regional urban centers or rural centers they would like to choose."

Local government units are also expected to be ready to accept the relocating residents.

"Yung mga government agencies natin will be providing individual benefits sa mga enrollees, but we will also provide institutional benefits and incentives to LGUs," Escalada said.

Also known as Executive Order No. 114, the program stated 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," it said.

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

The Council will be chaired by the executive secretary, Salvador Medialdea, with the current socioeconomic planning secretary, Karl Kendrick Chua, as vice-chairperson.A