This Southeast Asian country is paying its citizens to move to the countryside

If you were offered money to make a switch from living in the city to the countryside, would you take the offer?

This is the dilemma that many Filipinos are facing at the moment as Rodrigo Duterte’s government unveiled its ambitious ‘Back to the Province’ program.

With a population of more than 13 million people, Manila has become notorious for being one of the densest cities in the world, while sharing the top spot with India’s Bengaluru for having the worst traffic congestion.

According to traffic congestion ranking site, TomTom, Manila shares the top spot with Bengaluru at 71 percent of congestion level. To put things into perspective, Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, has only 37 percent.

Manila has one of the world’s worst traffic. IMAGE: PhilStar.

The ‘Back to the Province’ program.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has caused major disruptions to Manila’s transport, utility, and health services, has given Duterte a cause to solve overcrowding issues in Manila.

According to Bloomberg, the Philippine government is offering cash and goods to entice city-dwellers to shift from crowded concrete jungles to the countryside.

The program will provide incentives and livelihood opportunities for Filipinos who decide to return to their respective provinces once the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted.

“As soon as the enhanced community quarantine is lifted and travel is gradually normalized, the government must encourage Filipino families to move out of Manila and other metropolitan areas. Government must provide them the means and incentives to go back to the provinces for good,” Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said.

IMAGE: Short Term Missions.

Idle lands.

Bong added that the Philippines is a largely agricultural nation with plenty of idle lands that can be developed in the countryside.

“This proposal is also about equitable distribution of the gains of our fast-developing economy, balanced development of the urban and rural areas, and poverty alleviation,” he said.

Bloomberg revealed that families that have been approved for the program can receive up to US$2,173 (110,000 pesos) either in the form of cash or goods.

Since its launch in May, over 60,000 people have applied. However, priority is given to those who are unemployed, homeless or living in areas that are disaster-prone.

However, some observers feel that the program could be a temporary solution until the economy recovers.

In its recent report, researchers at Manila’s University of the Philippines’ Population Institute said balanced regional development is key in convincing and retaining people to the provinces.

“When migrants indeed move back, we need to give them enough reason to stay there for good.”

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Cover image sourced from Pixabay.