The country’s largest business organization with a membership of 35,000 small, medium and large enterprises nationwide have given its full backing behind the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asainitiative of President Rodrigo Duterte, as it endorsed new legislation on township revitalization meant to finally decongest Metro Manila and create more jobs in rural communities amid the seemingly drawn-out coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In a letter sent recently to Duterte, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) pointed out that “with high population density becoming a major cause of the spread of the contagious COVID-19, we all the more must intensify the Balik Probinsya effort.”
“We cite the timeliness and are fully supportive of a bill filed in Congress by Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte.”
“We cite the timeliness and are fully supportive of a bill filed in Congress by Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, which will provide the basis for ensuring the sustainability of this program,” said PCCI president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico and former GMA-7 president-CEO Menardo Jimenez, who chairs PCCI’s Balik Probinsya program, in their letter to Duterte.
PCCI’s letter of support for both the Palace program and the legislative initiative of Villafuerte was sent to Duterte through Sen. Bong Go, and a copy was furnished the deputy speaker for finance.
Villafuerte filed House Bill (HB) 6970 during the first regular session of the 18th Congress in a bid, he said, “to fast-track the implementation of President Duterte’s initiative to stop unbridled urban migration and create a lot of jobs plus livelihood and self-employment in the countryside in order to encourage people to stay put and work in their home provinces.”
Go has filed Senate Resolution (SR) 380 on the Balik Probinsya program, which the President endorsed in one of his televised public addresses last May.
Duterte subsequently issued Executive Order (EO) 114, mandating a multi-sectoral comprehensive program to decongest Metro Manila and encourage Filipino workers here and abroad to go back to their home regions and live—and work—there for good.
Villafuerte said “the full support of PCCI, which is the biggest umbrella group of businesses in the country should serve a strong impetus for both chambers of the Congress to put the proposed legislation fast-tracking Balik Probinsya among their top concerns this second legislative session.”
The former Camarines Sur governor said HB 6970 seeks to “harness public investments and incentives as the linchpin of a two-pronged approach to encourage people who have migrated to the heavily congested Metro Manila to return to their home provinces and for those who have opted to stay put in their cities or municipalities to remain there instead of relocating to Metro Manila and other urban centers in search of jobs or better livelihood opportunities.”
The PCCI told President Duterte in the letter that the decongestion of urban centers, notably Metro Manila, “has been planned and in fact, has been the ambition of previous administrations, their efforts inevitably have fallen short of expectations and come to naught. No administration has yet been able to successfully reverse rural migration to Metro Manila and other urban centers!”
In support of the President’s program and the legislative proposal, Yujuico and Jimenez said the PCCI “will engage the business community to do its share by marshaling their resources in support for providing a decent livelihood opportunities to returning migrants. This is the kind of Public Private Partnership (PPP) which will help boost the economy and improve the lives of the returnees while decongesting Metro Manila.”
Given the complexities of this national effort, Yujuico and Jimenez proposed that the government “first pilot a few areas with the PCCI serving as a counterpart of a designated government coordinating body. The choice of congested priority areas, say in Metro Manila, will be government’s call with transport and housing logistics made available to ensure a new, safe and secure life with their families.”
For its part, the PCCI said: “Will identify suitable business groups with a presence in the targeted areas, engaging them to provide and match the employment of livelihood opportunities for subject returnees.”
“Legislating the Balik Probinsya bill will relieve the socio-economic effects of urban congestion and the concentration of economic activity in Metro Manila.”
Villafuerte welcomed PCCI’s support for HB 6970, which, he said, will “encourage businesses to relocate or expand to rural areas via a slew of government come-ons such as tax breaks; incentives for relocation and creation of new jobs; and low-interest loans and financial aid for investors who will engage in rural industrialization.”
For Villafuerte, “The flip side of urban congestion came to the fore amid the unprecedented global health emergency as Metro Manila, which is the world’s 15th most densely populated city—according to data from the CityMayorsStatistics, a global source for urban statistics—easily became COVID-19’s epicenter in the country.”
“Encouraging Metro Manila-based workers to return to their home provinces against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic will only become an effective strategy to decongest the metropolis and spur genuine rural growth and development if the government will provide the essential physical and social infrastructure, tax incentives and other financial assistance not only to entice Filipinos to make an exodus to the countryside but also encourage those residing in their provinces to stay put,” Villafuerte said.
He explained that HB 6970’s two-pronged approach of public investments and incentives had been the catalyst for successful programs to create townships and transform rural communities into new growth areas in the United States and Europe.
In the US, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act of 1972 mandated the government to, among others, extend loans to residents of rural areas for the establishment small business enterprises, provide grants for water and waste disposal systems, and construct various public facilities, he said.
In the United Kingdom, he said, the New Towns Movement from 1946 to 1976 established towns or garden cities after World War II that helped decentralize London’s population and industries, leading to the relocation of Londoners to a series of satellite towns outside the UK capital.
“Legislating the Balik Probinsya bill will relieve the socio-economic effects of urban congestion and the concentration of economic activity in Metro Manila. It will assist in stimulating growth at the Philippine countryside as workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic are constrained to go back to their respective provinces,” Villafuerte said.
“By incentivizing business and other economic activities in the provinces, this bill will encourage workers in Metro Manila and other urban centers to go back to their hometowns where gainful employment awaits them,” he added.
With a population density of 20,785 persons per square kilometer (sq. km)–or 60 times higher than the 337 persons per sq. km at the national level–Metro Manila is ranked 15th among the most densely populated cities in the world.
In 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) tagged Metro Manila as the most congested natural city in Asia with a population greater than five million.
Earlier, Villafuerte offered to Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez a 300-hectare industrial estate within Camarines Sur’s Provincial Capitol complex, which is just a a 5-minute drive from the Naga Airport, as the first Balik Probinsya site where companies in Metro Manila could relocate to or open for business once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
This 300-hectare property is ideal for investors, he said, as it is already equipped with the necessary infrastructure such as fiber optic internet connection along with available power or electricity and water and accessibility.
Villafuerte said there is a business processing outsourcing (BPO) company already operating in the industrial park accredited by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) within the 300-hectare estate.