[OPINION] Can Balik-Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa help stranded Filipinos?
If you visit the official website of Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2), you will realize how efficient the government can be when they set their mind to it. According to the website’s “Success Stories,” Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go sponsored the Senate Resolution on BP2, and the president signed the executive order on May 6, 2020. Only 14 days later, the first BP2 batch was sent off to their home province in Leyte, and "various government assistance” awaited the 112 individuals.
One month later, however, Michelle Silvertino dies by a footbridge in Pasay City. She was one of the many stranded Filipinos waiting for a bus ride home. If it were not for the viral post on her death, we would never have heard of Michelle’s story. Her body, which was buried in a shallow grave, was one of the many casualties, not of COVID-19, but of the pandemic that is our government.
Michelle would have benefited from the BP2 program. One month after the first batch was sent off, I wondered if the 112 individuals were indeed given “livelihood/employment opportunities, skills training, and health needs support, among others.” It was, after all, filed under "Success Stories," as if providing transportation was equivalent to fulfilling the program’s mission. I wonder: How does the government measure success?
If success is equivalent to providing transportation, the site has not been updated. I wonder how many more “beneficiaries” were sent home after the well-documented first batch. Even without the BP2 program, I know the government can provide transportation for stranded individuals in bus terminals, piers, and airports.
How many more mothers will die of hunger and dehydration as they sleep on footbridges and roadsides? How many more stranded overseas Filipinos will have to skip meals and endure the scorching heat and rain so they can save their last P6,000 for their hungry children back home? The president flies home to Davao to be with his family for a couple of days when everyone else is not allowed to cross borders without a travel pass. In my hometown in Laguna, our city hall is packed every day with people queuing to request for a travel pass.
We read about overseas Filipnos committing suicide in quarantine facilities after being held for months, because the government supposedly cannot even provide proper assistance and transportation. We learn of overseas Filipinos being moved from one quarantine facility to another, some with shared bathrooms, makeshift walls with no fans, broken windows and doors, and no sustainable water supply. After staying at a quarantine facility in Manila, some are asked to stay in another isolation facility required by the local government unit, and then in yet another by their barangay. Again, they are given no psychosocial and financial assistance to keep them afloat – just a quarantine facility with barely any room to breathe.
And what of the farmers in the provinces?
What kind of life is waiting for people who wish to be beneficiaries of BP2? The BP2 creates an illusion that the urban poor and informal settlers in the city will have a sustainable life in the province. But these people left their province and their children to look for jobs in the city.
Michelle Silvertino was a single parent to 4 children, and she wanted to work as a domestic helper abroad. She kept failing the medical exam because of a pulmonary disease, so she had to work in Antipolo, Rizal as a househelper for a while. Michelle was one of millions of mothers leaving their hometown to look for jobs in the city and abroad. They left their provinces because there are no more agricultural lands, with the ones left being threatened to be converted into yet another subdivision, mall or foreign investment. If there are still farmers in their province, they are buried in debt and landless, struggling to survive exactly because of government programs like Build, Build, Build. Most of the farmers end up applying as construction workers in between farming, helping build roads and infrastructure in place of the land they till.
Applicants of the BP2 program would have to fill an online form, and there seems to be a screening process. In the form, there is an “Assessment” section where you have to answer, “What do you intend to do in the province to financially support your family?” The choices provided are: farming, fishing, buy and sell, transport service, retail, pagmemekaniko, pagmamanekyurista, pangmamsahe, paggugupit, pagkakarinderya, pagkokonstruksyon.
Besides transporting beneficiaries back to their provinces, the government should strengthen our agricultural programs and rural development. The government must offer genuine agrarian reforms so that the farming, livestock, and fishing in their assessment choices do not offer false hope. It should not be a band-aid solution nor a ruse to evict the poor from areas with high value for real estate and investments, which will ultimately benefit big business conglomerates.
We need a comprehensive socio-economic program that will analyze how resources, including land and fishery controlled by landlords and large corporations, eventually lead to a vicious cycle of neglect and displacement. The government must first ensure that the beneficiaries will not fall victim to human rights abuses, low wages, and militarization because of the Build, Build, Build program and other policies that are anti-poor. The government must first recognize the real reason people in the countryside are risking their lives to look for better opportunities in Metro Manila and abroad. – Rappler.com
Rae Rival is a high school teacher and a member of Gantala Press, a feminist literary press.