'Balik Probinsya' suspended as gov't focuses on stranded individuals

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 11 2020 12:26 PM | Updated as of Jun 11 2020 05:58 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - "Balik Probinsya," President Rodrigo Duterte's push for Metro Manila workers to return to their home provinces, is suspended to give way to the homecoming of those who are stranded in the capital region, the official in charge of the program said Thursday.

For the meantime, resources will be focused on bringing home to the countryside overseas Filipino workers, construction workers, tourists, and students, said "Balik Probinsya" Executive Director Marcelino Escalada Jr.

"I decided as a matter of strategy na i-suspend muna ang ating rollouts for the Balik Probinsya to prioritize stranded OFWs, construction workers, students, and tourists," said Escalada, who is also general manager of the National Housing Authority.

"We want to make sure that on one hand, the LGUs (local government units) are ready to receive their own constituents by then," he said. 

Children get their temperature checked and hands sanitized before boarding the bus bound for Leyte during the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pagasa” program ceremonial roll out held at the NHA compound in Quezon City, May 20, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The indefinite suspension came less than a month into the "Balik Probinsya" program, which aims to bring back to home provinces those who traveled to Manila but ended up living as informal settlers. 

It has so far brought home to Leyte some 100 people. A fresh batch of applicants of the program was supposed to be transported on Thursday.

A pet project of Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, Duterte adopted "Balik Probinsya" to ease crowding in Metro Manila, which was highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The program has been criticized for lack of coordination with local government units that would receive the returning individuals in light of varying quarantine restrictions.

At least two beneficiaries of the program also tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to their hometown.