Lanao Norte town chosen as pilot area of ‘Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa’ Program

KAUSWAGAN, Lanao del Norte (MindaNews / 25 Nov) – This once war-torn municipality was chosen as the national pilot area of Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Program during the latter’s launching ceremony here Tuesday.

Senator Bong Go speaks at the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” pilot project launch in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte Tuesday (24 November 2020). Screengrab from a Presidential Communications video

The BP2 is the government’s program to decongest Metro Manila by encouraging those from the provinces to go back to their hometowns “for a better future” by assisting them in the “transition with support and incentives on transportation, family, livelihood, housing, subsistence and education.”

Kauswagan Mayor Rommel Arnado said the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Organic Village will rise in a six-hectare agricultural land owned by the local government.

It will cater to at least 200 prospective beneficiaries who are willing to go into organic farming.

The village, Arnado said, will have housing, greenhouse organic vegetable production facility, basketball court, organic broiler chicken production and organic goat production facilities.

A model house in the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Organic Village in Barangay Tacub, Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte awaits families who will return home to Lanao del Norte. Photo courtesy of Lou Ellen Antonio / PIA-Iligan

The mayor said his town must have been chosen as the pilot area because of its multi-awarded “From Arms to Farms” program in line with its Sustainable Integrated Kauswagan Agricultural Development and Peace Agenda which opened opportunity to former combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Kauswagan had been one of the hotspots in the Lanao provinces during the Moro people’s struggle since the 1970s. The latest incidents were in 2000 when MILF rebels occupied the municipal hall, forcing former President Joseph Estrada to declare an “all-out war” against the rebel group, and again when the MILF attacked the municipality in 2008.

During the BP2 launching in Upper Barangay Tacub on Tuesday, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go turned over a P15-million check from the National Housing Authority (NHA) to Mayor Arnado.

NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. said it was part of the P25 million intended for the construction of the first 87 houses for those who will qualify as recipient of the project.

“We can’t bring them back to the province and not give them new hope. We have to give them housing and livelihood,” Go quoted President Rodrigo Duterte as telling him.

Arnado said they have yet to establish the criteria with the NHA as to who will qualify for the project. He noted that there are about  9,000 hopefuls for Lanao del Norte but only 200 beneficiaries can be accommodated.

Escalada noted that when President Duterte issued Executive Order 114 that institutionalized the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program in the early part of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, around 80 percent of Metro Manila’s 14 million population are “probinsyano.”

When the national government called on the local government units to absorb residents who wanted to go home, Escalada said that many LGUs refused to receive Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs).

He stressed that “only five brave provinces” showed “a state of readiness” and were willing to welcome their constituents. Lanao del Norte was one of those, Escalada said, and particularly cited Kauswagan’s readiness to absorb LSIs. (Richel V. Umel / MindaNews)