Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

The generous state claims to offer a win-win solution to informal settlers: leave Metro Manila; return to the provinces. The national government will shoulder the transportation cost while local governments will provide a small financial incentive for Balik Probinsiya beneficiaries.

Why should the poor return to the provinces? Because they are viewed as eyesores, their presence is unwanted, and they multiply fast like rats (and rats spread diseases like leptospirosis). Their parasitic existence in Metro Manila is believed to be the cause of numerous urban problems like pollution, overpopulation, unemployment, rising criminality, and environmental degradation. They prevent progress since they discourage foreign investors from setting up various businesses in the city.

The poor are guilty of being poor. They are guilty of constructing houses along rail tracks floodways, and riverbeds. If they die during calamities, it is their stubborn attitude which should be blamed. To save the poor from their own stupidity, the benevolent government is offering them a chance to rebuild their miserable lives in the provinces.

Balik Probinsiya is the latest anti-poverty measure of the government. Bureaucrats and technocrats want fast results so they have less patience for programs that require massive public funding for social and economic services. They want to get rid of the problem quickly. They want the poor out of their sight.

Beautification programs can immediately hide the ugly houses of the poor. Relocation is also an option. A less costly alternative is to pay the one way bus tickets of the poor. Remove the poor in Metro Manila so that the government can boast that its poverty eradication programs are working. Move them out where tourists and credit rating analysts can’t see them.

Balik Probinsiya affirms the existence of two kinds of Filipinos in the country today: Those who deserve to remain in Metro Manila and those who must be ejected from the megacity. Filipinos who are permitted to stay in the city and Filipinos who are disallowed from leaving the provinces. Filipinos who can survive during calamities without government aid and Filipinos who accept relief goods. Filipinos who can stay in evacuation centers because they are voters and Filipinos who must be prevented from returning to their shanty homes because they don’t have political value. There are citizens who enjoy the full protection of the state; and there are incomplete citizens who are erased from the political radar screen.

Balik Probinsiya is a condescending program. It claims to help the poor by providing an opportunity for the latter to return to their home provinces. It does the thinking for the poor by assuming that the poor want to return to the provinces. It insists that the best and only option of the poor is to leave Metro Manila. The government believes that the poor who have low intake of iodized salt will not be able to make the most informed decision about their own welfare. Therefore, the government has to intervene. Oddly, funding the bus fares of the poor addresses the people’s right to travel. A one way, one time, never come back right to travel.

Balik Probinsiya is an ill-conceived, superficial treatment of the pestering wounds that afflict the city. The government wants to save the poor who live in dangerous, disaster-prone areas. But the solution is not simply to evacuate mindless and unlucky residents living near esteros and dead lakes. Where is the comprehensive disaster-preparedness program? Where is the modern land use code? Where is the blueprint for sustainable development? Besides, Balik Probinsiya missed an essential point which Typhoon Pepeng illuminated for us. That even in the provinces, disasters occur. Flooding and mudslides also destroy lives and properties in the provinces. Balik Probinsiya will not save the poor from being victims of environmental disasters. Balik Probinsiya is a convenient and lame excuse of the government which wants to abandon its duty of providing assistance to its citizens.

Balik Probinsiya is proof and admission that we have an impotent state. Finally, the government concedes that it is unable to protect and provide services to urban residents. That the ruling class is almost powerless to govern effectively in the urban areas. That the only clever solution it can concoct is to literally and physically remove the poor from their areas of responsibility. The government has a myopic view that reducing the number of visible poor in Metro Manila can partly hide the true state of poverty in the metro.

In the past, Christian Manilans were persuaded by the national government to migrate to Mindanao to challenge the dominance of Muslims. Today, the poor are persuaded (and even forced) by public authorities to depopulate Metro Manila in order to modernize the country’s economy. Then and now, moving people from the urban to rural serves the political interest of the ruling class.

Balik Probinsiya highlights the extent of urban decay. It confirms that Metro Manila is no longer the ideal place where dreams become a reality. The reality has become a nightmare for many Filipinos who once harbored dreams of making it big in the big city. Balik Probinsiya stands for the many shattered Filipino dreams; the symbol of Imperial Manila’s utter failure to accommodate the hungry and landless poor from the provinces.

Balik Probinsiya underscores the fact that Metro Manila is inhabited by local migrants. Balik Probinsiya is therefore meant for unsuccessful migrants. It hopes to reverse the migration trend by providing an escape route for probinsiyanos trapped in Metro Manila. It mirrors the immigration policies of rich nations which are now encouraging illegal migrants to return to their home countries. To quell rising discontent, rich nations are laying-off foreign migrant workers so that there will be enough jobs for the domestic population. Balik Probinsiya is the local version of this policy. Only deserving citizens, not the uneducated and unclean poor, should enjoy economic and political privileges in the city.

Migrants are welcome to live and work in Manila and in the global cities of the West as long as they do not threaten the political-economic survival of the dominant leadership of the state. But if the migrant population explodes too fast, and if their numbers make it difficult for the state to govern effectively, they will be subjected to harsh regulatory policies.

Balik Probinsiya emphasizes the need for a comprehensive development in the country so that Filipinos need not migrate to Imperial Manila to seek better opportunities in life.

Perhaps the most disagreeable aspect of Balik Probinsiya is its simplistic analysis of the rural. To convince Filipinos to return to the provinces, the government paints a romanticized image of the province: Life is better in the provinces. Food is abundant, clean drinking water is plenty, there is no traffic. (A politician once told me that the people in the provinces are not poor. They eat good food, drink clean water, and breathe fresh air. They only need clothes.)

The government deliberately forgot to mention that rural folks migrated to Metro Manila because they dreamed and wanted a better future for their families. They couldn’t find enough opportunities in the provinces that would enable them to improve their lives. Manny Pacquiao left General Santos to find a job in Manila. There are hundreds of thousands of Manny Pacquaios in Metro Manila but since they are not boxing champions, they are now told to immediately leave the city.

We have a rural paradise beset with third world problems like landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, and militarization. Peasants can’t eat what they sowed and planted. Farmers can’t afford to buy adequate food and water supplies for their families. Vast amounts of land are owned by exploitative landowners and absentee foreign landlords. If the rural people decide to manifest and display dissidence, their communities will be militarized. Is this the idyllic countryside the government is talking about?

Balik Probinsiya is a right-wing initiative. The left should claim it and rebrand it with a radical content. During martial law, Kabataang Makabayan members went back to the provinces to establish opposition groups and activist chapters. Recognizing that the left’s solid political strength is still to be found in the countryside, Balik Probinsiya will give the left additional potential recruits for their political campaigns. The left should welcome Balik Probinsiya beneficiaries by providing them with a proper political education. The returning migrants from Manila should be politicized. They should be taught how to fight the oppressive state with dignity. By recruiting them in the struggle for a more egalitarian society, they will be able to regain their humanity.

Balik Probinsiya? Balik Kanayunan!

Related articles:

Urban facelift
MMDA and poverty
Poverty and Amartya Sen
Imperial Manila

7 Responses to “Balik probinsiya. Balik kanayunan”

  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

    Tom Humes

  2. […] luma pero mahusay na isinulat si Mong Palatino tungkol sa programang balik-probinsya ng gobyernong […]

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  3. The arguments laid out here are far-stretched to fit your usual tirade that the government is anti-poor. What I am getting from your points is that government should keep these people in the city, and allow them to pursue their big-city dreams. Do they have the skills needed for industries and businesses that thrive in Manila? No. They should go back to the province and do what they’re best at. I thought the Left always argue that we’re basically an agricultural state. Then they should help build that base. And the government’s role is precisely to equip them with skills to do just that. What I’m getting from your article is that the the government should welcome them with open arms in Manila. That’s not the case. E di mawawalan tayo ng agricultural base kung lahat na lang gusto mag-Maynila, lahat magiging maralitang taga-lungsod. Dyos ko naman, yan ang mahihirap sa mga maka-Kaliwa, lagi na lang sinasabing anti-poor, ni hindi kayang i-critique ang mismong mga gawi ng mga maralitang taga-lungsod na to.


  4. maari po ba kaming umuwi sa sming probinsiya namin

    rhey mart menor

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