Balik Probinsya:New hope but…

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - May 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Last week, National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. said that he saw a “very positive indication on the number of interested employees for the Balik Probinsya program.” 

Just launched last May 6, he reported that three days or four days, thereafter, he already saw 10,000 enrollees all over Metro Manila who are willing to go back to their respective provinces and municipalities.  Among the top provinces, he further noted, are Leyte, Bohol and Camarines Sur.

While we may like his optimism, to safely conclude that this is a positive indication isn’t rational at this point in time. Realizing how lethal COVID-19 is, this could be just a knee-jerk reaction. Or, probably, just out of fear or just wishing to be away from the threat momentarily.  Once the threat is gone, they might just change their minds. 

It is also a big possibility that they are enrolling into it because Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development earlier said that they are ready “to offer housing units to qualified individuals who will return to the provinces. 

Stressing further that there is an available inventory of units through the NHA, which are unoccupied and have yet to be awarded.

 reasons there maybe, the fact remains that there is a need to go deeper into the roots of the problem that made them left their rural abode. That way, we will be able to address the congestion problems in the highly urbanized areas. 

We call this rural exodus. It simply means, farmers, farm workers or fisher folks left their farms or livelihood and tried their luck in highly urbanized areas. The main and mean reason, abject poverty.

Notably, majority of those in dire strait are in the agriculture sector. In fact, if examined closely, those who are mired in poverty in the highly urbanized cities’ slum areas are rural migrants. These are offshoots of the continuing rural exodus on account of the feeling and perception of helplessness in the countryside. 

So prevalent for decades now, rural exodus or rural flight refers to migratory patterns that normally happen in a depressed region or province. Due to limited opportunities, there tends to be a movement of people from the rural areas to the urban areas. The search for better lives has always been their common denominator.

In all instances, the advent of modern technology has been the biggest contributor to this phenomenon. News or reports about progressive cities and the better lives of their inhabitants (true or not) can be heard or seen right in theirs or their neighbors’ living rooms. Naturally, the dream to try their luck mounts.

Also, the advancement of communication technology made it easy for these hopefuls to make decisions. Though they have to leave their families for the time being, the portability of their best communication equipment made them more comfortable even if they are far away.  They are fully aware that knowing their families’ well-being is just a call away.

Indeed, while the availability of real-time communication benefitted the majority of the country’s population in many ways, it has also somehow hastened rural exodus. Consequently, congestion in the urban areas is sickening and inactivity in the countryside is deafening. Worse, both situations have added concerns on criminality in the urban areas and non-productivity in the countryside. 

However, despite these conveniences, most rural folks will definitely stay where they are if opportunities to earn are present and reachable. When all the necessities like food, shelter, clothing as well as health and school facilities are available and the opportunities to improve their lives exist, those who have remained in the rural areas will surely forever stay put.

We can start by supporting them with farm inputs and reinforce them with a battalion of young and idealistic agriculturists who should be under the Department of Agriculture. Then, build farm-to-market roads and storage facilities. While these will be useful once completed, in the meantime, the other family members will be able to find construction work while waiting for their harvests. 

More importantly, the local government units should activate their Economic Enterprise Councils (EECs) and establish marketing arms for these farmers. That way, the predators (the shrewd middlemen) won’t be able to take advantage of these farmers’ helplessness.

Hopefully, with them staying put comfortably and profitably, the Balik Probinsya program will be more convincing to the would-be returnees and will gain traction. Otherwise, despite vigorous implementation of the Balik Probinsya program, this will surely fail. 

Clearly, therefore, let us first help those who have patiently remained where they are. Let us help them make their well-being doubly better than those who left them. That way, those currently settling down in the urban areas will just return to their roots on their own.

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