Balik Probinsya program kicks off in Lanao del Norte

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DAVAO CITY — The government’s Balik Probinsiya Bagong Pag-asa (BP2)  has finally been given flesh, as the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the local government unit (LGU) formally launched the  Program in the town of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte last Tuesday, November 24.

The BP was born as the country struggles to fight against the world’s health threat, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 or Covid-19 pandemic.

The program is aimed at decongesting the urban centers of the country, and bring back individuals and overseas Filipino workers who were either retrenched from a closed business establishment or, those workers coming home from overseas who lost their jobs.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go hatched the BP2 program in their desire to provide shelter for displaced workers and their families who do not own a house back in their provinces.

On May 6, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 114 which created the BP2 Council and institutionalized the BP2 program. According to the EO, the BP2 Program will bring “balanced regional development and equitable distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities through policies and programs that boost countryside development and inclusive growth”.

The EO came after Go authored Senate Resolution No. 380 urging the executive department to formulate and implement a program that aims to decongest Metro Manila and promote robust development in the provinces.

Senator Bong Go lauds the municipality of Kauswagan , Lanapo del Norte for hosting Mindanao’s first Balik Probinsya housing site.

At the height of more stringent COVID-19 quarantine measures, the BP2 program’s initial rollouts were suspended to give way to President Duterte’s directive to prioritize the Hatid Tulong initiative, a transportation assistance program that helps locally stranded individuals (LSIs) return to their provinces.

As it is now, a total of 101,532 applications have been filed with the BP2 program. They include 46,404 families and 2,540 stranded overseas Filipino workers. Of the total figure of applicants, 1,390 are seeking to return to Lanao del Norte.

Giving flesh to the program also means the active involvement of the  National Housing Authority (NHA), local government, and the line agencies.

Under the scheme, the LGU provides the land suited for the returning residents while the NHA provides the fund for the purpose, and at the same time build the houses.

The program was initially put on hold to pave the way for the Locally Stranded Individuals (LSI) whose travel back home was canceled or differed as to the quarantine protocol mandates.

Presently, Lanao del Norte is one of five pilot provinces in which the program has been introduced, the others being Camarines Sur, Isabela, Leyte, and Zamboanga del Norte. The program’s activities for Kauswagan will be implemented by the newly-established project management office (PMO) under the leadership of Kauswagan Mayor Rommel C. Arnado.

The PMO will serve as the primary management and coordination unit. The activities, however, will be developed and carried out in close collaboration with the national and regional BP2 Council and other relevant stakeholders at the regional and provincial levels of government.

As the country relaxed the quarantine status, the municipality of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte moved and aspired to be the first cite for the project.

As Mayor Rommel Arnado said, “We have space here and we have food”.

On Tuesday, Marcelino Escalada Jr., the NHA manager handed over to Arnado the P25- million for the construction of 87 units of quadruplex houses inside the 6.3-hectare land in Barangay Tacub, that was donated by the GN Power Kauswagan, a coal-fired power plant company based in the same barangay.

 Housing Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario said some 100 units are targeted to be constructed. The LGU will spend on the 13 other units.

Each housing unit will have an average floor area of 30 square meters and an average lot area of 80 square meters. These houses will be finished in 200 calendar days from the start of work.

The BP2 Program in Lanao del Norte is called Bagong Pag-asa Organic Village because an organic garden will also be cultivated and grown as part of the community’s sustainability scheme. Kauswagan LGU has been noted for its advocacy of organic farming.

Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, who graced the launching said that the program will bring hope to the beneficiaries aside from providing them housing, jobs, and livelihood. It will also hasten development in the provinces.

“Daghang salamat sa mga taga-Lanao, sa Kauswagan sa inyong pagdawat sa Balik Probinsiya Bagong Pag-asa nga programa nato,” he further said.

The BP2 is a long-term program of the government to decongest Metro Manila of migrants especially informal settlers who were drawn there in their search for economic opportunities.

“Proponent lang ko ani nga programa, pero paningkamot gyud kini ni President Duterte aron motabang sa mga probinsiyano,” Go added.

(I am just a proponent of this but this program, but it was also President Duterte’s intent to help the people in the province.)

NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalda, the executive director of BP2 Program said that beneficiaries of the project are those who voluntarily decided to return to the province, after losing their job or other sources of income because of the pandemic and other circumstances.

The beneficiaries are also those who are currently living in an unsafe dwelling in other regions and those who have direct exposure to health and safety risks and other environmental hazards.

According to Escalada, Lanao del Norte is one of the many provinces in the country “that signified bravely” the intent of accepting the BP2 Program.

“We chose Lanao del Norte as the pilot area of this project because of its readiness to accept their returning residents during the pandemic. We chose Kauswagan (town) because of its agricultural productivity. Food is everywhere, according to Mayor (Rommel) Arnado, for as long as one will work hard,” Escalada said.

Arnado said they have already received more than 100 thousand applicants from all over the country and more than 9,000 applicants are returning residents of Kauswagan.

“We have not chosen the final beneficiaries yet. We are screening them. The beneficiaries are not only limited to residents of Kauswagan but residents of the province of Lanao del Norte,” Arnado emphasized.

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the village is a microcosm of what they would like the Philippines to be, a well-organized people with one common objective and a target of reducing poverty and improving productivity.

“We will build here a community of about 200 families originally coming from urban centers living as informal settlers. They will come here, they will be provided with housing units, with one common livelihood activity,” he said.

According to him, the project management office of the Bahay Pag-asa Organic Village has already forged a marketing agreement with a private company to buy the organic chicken and vegetables that will be produced in the village.  

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) undersecretary Benjo Santos said the agency is also providing beneficiaries the opportunities to earn by giving them employment, and, or provide them business.

“We are not only building a community but we are also building lives here. The DOLE is giving 20 thousand pesos grants per individual as their start-up. If they apply as a group, the DOLE can give as much as P1 million,” Santos said in a press briefing after the launching ceremony.

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