Nearly 120,000 Metro Manila residents seek return to home provinces, but Balik Probinsya still on hold – official

By Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

Metro Manila residents who wish to relocate to their home provinces will have to wait longer as the government’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program remains suspended.

Marcelino Escalada, executive director of the program, said in an online media briefing on Saturday that questions were raised on the readiness of local government units to receive their returning constituents amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“Up until there’s no certainty yet in terms of the vaccine and at the same time the readiness of some LGUs, suspended muna natin until further notice,” said Escalada, who is also the National Housing Authority’s general manager.

Escalada said he will rely on the directive of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, adding that LGUs should have the capability to quarantine and treat patients suspected of or confirmed to have the coronavirus disease.

The Balik Probinsya program has been put on hold since June to accommodate persons stranded in the capital region due to travel restrictions. Although the government stopped sending people to the provinces, Escaldad said program evaluation and assessment continued.

Umabot na nang almost 120,000 who have signified na talagang sasama na sila, babalik na sila sa kani-kanilang mga probinsya,” he said.

[Translation: Those who have signified their intent to return to their respective provinces have reached almost 120,000.]

He also identified local government units deemed ready to welcome returning residents. These are Leyte, Camarines Sur, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Norte, Isabela, and Davao del Norte.

President Rodrigo Duterte issued an executive order in May institutionalizing the Balik Probinsya program in a bid to decongest Metro Manila and promote growth in the regions. It encourages people in congested urban areas, especially informal settlers, to go back to their provinces, with the government providing them with transportation, cash, and livelihood assistance.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, former Special Assistant to the President, pushed for the measure in April amid concerns about virus transmission. Should the program resume, Escalada said the government would only send off individuals who test negative for COVID-19 through RT-PCR testing, considered the gold standard in detecting the presence of the coronavirus.

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