POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2020 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sending city migrants back to the provinces

HALFWAY in his six-year term, President Duterte wants to attempt reversing the migration to the national capital of rural folk in search of a better life.

His Balik-Probinsya (Back to the Province) campaign is not a novel idea. Previous administrations had also tried decongesting Metro Manila and other urban centers under decentralization, devolution, local autonomy, and other shibboleths.

Those prior attempts to stem migration to Metro Manila have faded out in the follow-through. We hope Duterte’s program is not a mere distraction. His scoring a 75-percent accomplishment grade would be success enough.

Duterte is smart launching Balik-Probinsya in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Urban decongestion will ride on the urgency of social distancing, community quarantine, and such emergency measures.

Reducing population density is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus. Deeper and faster contamination is inevitable where there are too many people crammed into limited space and sharing common facilities and resources.

If you dump a hundred goldfish in an aquarium meant for just 10, you would soon see some of the poor fish floating dead in the water.

But people are a species that live and love being free to swim around. They have to be motivated, and assisted, to lead fulfilled lives where their full potential can be realized, especially for their children.

Wikipedia has the Philippines holding the highest number of cities (at 13) on its list of the world’s 60 most DENSELY POPULATED cities. Metro Manila’s 16 cities were listed separately.

The top three on the list are Manila (with a population density of 46,178 people/sq km), Pateros (36,447/sq km), and Mandaluyong (34,925/sq km). Other Metro Manila cities listed are: Caloocan (27,989/sq km), Makati (24,346/sq km), Malabon (22,139/sq km), Navotas (21,674/sq km), Pasig (21,290/sq km), Pasay (21,077/sq km), San Juan (20,687/sq km), Marikina (19,909/sq km), Las Piñas (18,391/sq km), and Quezon (17,738/sq km).

WHY DO RURAL FOLK MIGRATE TO THE  CITIES? Most of them think they can find in the urban centers better opportunities, jobs, food, education, security and more comfort for their families.

That gives a hint of how to slow down or reverse migration to the cities. Instead of using coercion to restrict their movements, we must meet their basic needs in the countryside. That gives them good reasons not to stray into the steel and concrete jungle of the cities.

As we say, Manila is not the Philippines. The Philippines is where every Filipino lives, in Luzon and the rest of our more than 7,000 islands, including Pagasa isle in the Spratlys off Palawan that is being coveted by a land-grabbing neighbor feigning friendship.

The rural population need not flock to Metro Manila if there are businesses and factories to absorb them in the provinces, quality schools to educate the youth, roads and ports to facilitate movement of goods and people, farms and food baskets, stores and markets to cater to every taste.

All these years, the government has been trying to fill the basic needs of a people pursuing a dream, including lowly Filipinos in the fringes, the laylayan, as Vice President Leni Robredo refers to them.

But with everybody trying to grab whatever he could snatch in the mad scramble for limited resources, we sink into a kind of lawlessness aggravated by inept and corrupt officials taking advantage of their position in the flawed system.

We hope the Balik-Probinsya program will be able to lower the population density and improve services in the crowded areas, rush infrastructure to facilitate commerce and tourism, convince big businesses to open outlets and offices in the countryside, motivate the better schools to go where students are, bolster local governments’ capacity to look after the returnees and promote security and social justice, et cetera.

The aggressive and patriotic participation of local governments is essential in devolution, which refers to the national government’s conferring power and authority on local entities to perform specific functions and responsibilities.

The Congress must review posthaste the 29-year old Local Government Code (RA 7160) to attune this “bible on local governance” to strengthening provinces, cities, towns, and barangays in playing their role in countryside development.

The landmark Code is so encompassing and forward-looking that we do not have to embroil the country in a disruptive process to amend or revise the Constitution if the only objective – as claimed by the merchants of federalism – is to reform the system.

The Code mandates that it be reviewed at least once every five years, for which a $250-million loan was even secured from the Asian Development Bank, but that assignment has been neglected.

Perhaps Sen. Koko Pimentel, son of the late Sen. Nene Pimentel — the “Father of the Local Government Code” — could spearhead this year’s review and updating?

 Add vitamins to seniors’ discounts

WE join senior citizens’ rights advocate Romulo Macalintal in asking Secretary of Health Francisco Duque to order all drug stores to give a 20-percent discount and an exemption from the 12-percent Value Added Tax on vitamins and mineral or dietary supplements especially in this time of COVID-19.

Macalintal said the discount and the exemption are allowed by the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010. Article 5.9 of the IRR defines ”medicine” as “any prescription and non-prescription/over-the-counter drugs, both generic and branded, including vitamins and mineral supplements medically prescribed by the elderly’s physician, and approved by the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, which are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of human disease or sickness.”

“Despite this clear definition of ‘medicine,’ drug stores and establishments selling vitamins, mineral, dietary or food supplements do not grant such privilege to seniors who, under the law, are entitled to the said discount,” he said.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, these vitamins, especially Vitamin C, and mineral or dietary supplements are urgently needed by our SCs,” he added.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 28, 2020)

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