Better opportunities for informal settler families in Metro Manila sought; Bong Go encourages them to enroll in Balik Probinsya program
As the government continues to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, the poorest of the poor remain the hardest hit. Even if the entire Metro Manila eventually transitions to general community quarantine soon, the daily struggle for the urban poor, composed mostly of informal settler families, remains the same or has become worse due to the effects of the pandemic —lack of decent and safe housing, low-paying jobs, lack of livelihood opportunities, and the constant threat of criminal elements lurking in busy streets.
Cognizant of this, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has called on concerned government agencies, particularly the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to facilitate a comprehensive assessment of the population and situation of ISFs, especially in Metro Manila, and provide better opportunities for them to start anew after the COVID-19 crisis.
“Sa patuloy na laban natin para masugpo ang COVID-19 sa bansa, kailangan din natin mabigyan ng bagong pag-asa ang ating urban poor na pinaka-apektado ng krisis. Karamihan po sa mga ito ay galing probinsya at gusto na pong umuwi kung mabibigyan sila ng oportunidad na magkaroon ng mas maayos na buhay,” Go said.
Go emphasized that if the urban poor are provided better opportunities in the countryside, they will be motivated to relocate back to their home provinces which would help solve problems in the metropolis related to congestion, such as poor quality of life, inefficiencies in the delivery of services, and environmental degradation.
“Ang pangunahing layunin natin ay mabigyan sila ng mga oportunidad para umasenso, tulad ng maayos na trabaho, edukasyon, pabahay at suporta mula sa local government para makaahon sila sa kahirapan kung piliin nilang bumalik sa kanilang mga probinsya,” he added.
Go, who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, stressed the need to rapidly assess the situation of informal settlers as they should be the priority target beneficiaries of the BP2 program.
Recently, PCUP has conducted its own survey with results showing that many ISFs are willing to return to the provinces. PCUP expects that as soon as the government finalizes various programs under BP2 program, more Filipino ISFs will consider applying for the program and opt to return to the provinces.
“Sinisigurado na ngayon ng gobyerno na kapag mag-aavail ang mga Pilipinong ISFs sa BP2 program, mayroon agad silang mapapatunguhan sa mga probinsyang uuwian nila. Pinaplano na ngayon at binubuo na ang mga benefits at mga packages, tulad ng murang pabahay, trabaho at mas pinagandang healthcare services,” Go said.
As of today, around 5,000 Filipinos have registered in the BP2 program and expressed intent to go back to their home provinces.
“Napakahirap maging mahirap, walang bahay at walang maayos na trabaho sa Kamaynilaan. Ipinakita rin ng krisis na dulot ng COVID-19 na mas mahirap pa ang buhay ng mga ISFs na manatili sa syudad,” the senator explained.
He added that in his fire visits before the pandemic hit the country, he noticed that most of the fire incidents took place in informal settlements.
“Isa sa limang tao sa Metro Manila ay informal settler. Kapag pumupunta ako sa mga fire visits sa NCR, napapansin kong nasa informal settlements nangyayari ang mga insidenteng ito dahil ang mga bahay ay dikit-dikit at gawa sa combustible na mga materyales.”
Go also mentioned that during his fire visits, he has met several residents who have expressed willingness to return to their provinces. However, some of them are reluctant, citing lack of job opportunities in the countryside.
“Gusto ko lang po i-kwento sa inyo nung umiikot pa ako sa mga nasunugan noon, wala pa itong COVID-19, una kong sinasabi sa kanila sino ang gustong umuwi ng probinsya? Ang daming nagtataas ng kamay,” Go said.
“Sabi ko bibigyan ko po kayo ng ticket, sabi ko one-way lang, ‘wag na kayong bumalik ng Maynila, bumaba yung kamay. Ibig sabihin, gusto pa rin nila bumalik ng Maynila dahil nandirito ‘yung trabaho nila, andito ‘yung pamilya nila,” he added.
The senator emphasized that it is not easy to live in esteros and river banks, under bridges or on sidewalks, or in cramped shanties with minimal or no access to basic services, such as water and electricity. He said that there are more lands in the provinces waiting to be developed as more people are also willing to go home, and that “this is the right time to decongest Metro Manila and give way for the development of the provinces.”
To encourage city dwellers to return to their provinces, Go said that the government is currently crafting a long-term plan to create economic opportunities in the countryside and boost regional development to help returning individuals and families to start their life anew in their home provinces.
Go further added that the country needs to break this vicious chain of poverty and that ISFs should be given better opportunities through BP2 program.
“We should learn from the COVID-19 experience and break that vicious chain of poverty; we should provide them the needed assistance to go back to the provinces and give hope for a better future for their children and their children’s children,” he added.