Balik Probinsiya

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

The Balik Probinsiya, Bagong Pagasa program of the Philippine government that encourages Metro Manila residents to go back home to their provinces is starting to take traction, with over 33,000 residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) signing up to participate in the program. The first batch of “returnees” numbering 112 went home to Leyte last Thursday, and will be given training and technical support from various agencies to help equip them into becoming more productive and self-sustaining.

Also known as BP2 or simply Balik Probinsiya, a project of Senator Bong Go, the program is aimed at decongesting Metro Manila and drive inclusive growth and development in the countryside. This was clear in the policy pronouncement of Executive Order 114 signed last May 6 by President Duterte that institutionalized the BP2 program, citing that the “uncontrolled upsurge in the NCR brings to the fore longstanding issues on the lack of viable and sustainable opportunities in the countryside, unbalanced development and unequal distribution of wealth.”

The EO also recognized that “the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines are congested areas located in the NCR” – making it very clear that living in areas with high population density is now proving to be dangerous because of the high possibility of COVID-19 transmission. One lesson that this new coronavirus is teaching us is that living in Metro Manila with the congestion, traffic and pollution is not only a health risk, it can become a death trap.

Considering that we have displaced overseas Filipino workers coming home, with most of them worried about the possibility that they may not be able to get jobs abroad again, the government should use this as an opportunity to encourage them to invest in their provinces. Perhaps the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank), the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and even private banks should really look into financing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) for these OFWs and give them fresh hope while providing the means to reinvigorate the economy in their provinces.

Another good vehicle to encourage OFWs to set up MSMEs is the Overseas Filipino Bank or OF Bank (a Landbank subsidiary) that has been setting up branches all over the country to widen its reach in rural communities. Plans are underway to convert it into a digital lending institution catering to our OFWs which is very timely considering the pandemic which is making everyone turn to online/digital services. According to Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, the OF Bank is set to become a digital-only facility to make it easy for overseas Filipinos to invest in their own country through a wide array of financial and investment products.

The Balik Probinsiya program certainly presents a lot of opportunities to spur growth in less developed regions by attracting foreign investors to establish new businesses in the provinces through more tax incentives. The prospect of lower production costs should make these areas outside Metro Manila very attractive to foreign companies that are planning to shift production from China to other locations in Asia following the coronavirus outbreak.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely serving as a wakeup call, which is why we have to put our heads together to see how we can all help to make the Balik Probinsiya program really work.

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Who is this Rey Arcilla? Who is this attention seeking pest named Rey Arcilla, whom some DFA people described as a lackluster diplomat trying hard to project himself as an expert in international relations? I am told that he’s been ineffectually wanting to go back to the DFA as a political appointee for some time. Calling attention to himself, he made a lot of unfounded nasty comments about many hardworking DFA career officers and officials including former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and nowadays, my longtime friend and chief, Secretary Teddyboy Locsin.

Not too long ago, he made another nasty comment about Senator Ping Lacson, injecting malice in the senator’s statements regarding the Recto Bank incident at the West Philippine Sea and accusing the independent legislator of toeing a party line. But the camp of Senator Ping hit it right on the nose in the rejoinder against the “tall tales” of Arcilla: “And last we checked, the post of presidential spokesperson has been filled. Is the former career officer and dean angling for the job?” (

Actually, this “wannabe” was a former dean of the College of International Relations at the Lyceum of the Philippines University who faced a sexual harassment case filed against him by a graduate in 2017.

The complainant, who shared her plight on Facebook (KV Rojas: The Reason Behind the Dean’s Resignation), said she met Arcilla to discuss her request for a recommendation letter for graduate studies (having been his former student), after which she was offered a ride home. According to the complainant, Arcilla made remarks like “you must have been ugly before” (because he could not remember her) and a lot of other inappropriate, sexually loaded remarks and also tried to touch her.

Following the formal complaint, Arcilla was asked to resign by LPU president Bobby Laurel, a family friend. The school unfortunately received a lot of bad publicity because of this sexual harassment case (VIRAL: Lyceum alumna accuses former college dean of harassment).

It’s time to call it a day, mister wannabe international relations expert! My good friend Senator Ping and I came to the same conclusion: He’s just another “tawag pansin” clueless, pathetic individual.

(The Philippine Daily Mirror welcomes JOSE MANUEL “Babe” ROMUALDEZ, Philippine Ambassador to the United States as a regular columnist. Ambassador Romualdez is also a journalist, publisher, and business executive. He is currently the President and CEO of Stargate Media Corp., an affiliate of the Philippine Star and the publishing company of PEOPLE Asia magazine, where he is the publisher. He is also a columnist at the Philippine Star.)