Balik Probinsya: Killing us by friendly fire
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - June 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Whoever thought of implementing the Balik Probinsya program at this time is a nut. The Philippines, despite being the 11th most populous country in the world with 110 million people, has managed to stay down in the 40s in the global COVID-19 cases rankings. And the reason for this remarkable feat had been its stringent travel restrictions.

It was recognized early on that travel was the main reason the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 had spread so rapidly to slam a pandemic down hard on more than 200 countries. And so most countries went into lockdown. People were forced to stay at home. Travel was banned. Gatherings were greatly restricted. Thus the fate of countries whose citizens valued personal freedoms more than the common good shows in the grim statistics.

The Philippines, a poor country with scant resources, overworked but underpaid health workers, corrupt officials who steal relief assistance, gave up so much and thus rode out the pandemic relatively well. As this was being written, the national death toll has still not breached a thousand five months since Wuhan.

And that is because nobody went from place to place to spread the virus. My wife's hometown of Carigara, Leyte, where I am at the moment, has remained COVID-19-free since the health crisis broke. So have the provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte, and Biliran. Then a couple of days ago the first Balik Probinsya arrivals came. And with them Leyte immediately posted two positive cases. One nut caused everyone's months of sacrifice to go pffft.

But why was Balik Probinsya implemented in the middle of the pandemic? For so long, Metro Manila, a magnet for provincial migration, grappled unsuccessfully with overpopulation. It longed to send the promdis back but got stymied by fears of political backlash. Then COVID-19 came. Sending the promdis home not only will ease the COVID-19 pressure on the Metro, it will also solve the overpopulation crisis at almost no political cost.

With COVID-19 fears in the big city and the incentives dangled, everyone will be going home willingly. No one will be forcibly uprooted. And no less than the president has their backs with some half-baked legal mumbo-jumbo. Duterte says the returnees have the constitutional right to go home. And that is correct, except that he forgot that people already home have the constitutional right to be safe and secure too. So whose right will prevail, sir?

But I do not expect you to think clearly. Your coddling of Debold Sinas who broke almost every COVID-19 protocol shows you are a man of your word only when you feel like it. And it seems this crisis is not one of your better days. A few weeks ago my father-in-law died without enjoying many of the family, religious, cultural and traditional rites because we heeded your word on protocols. Then Sinas happened and now Balik Probinsya. Buanga.

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