BALIK-PROBINSYA. A man who availed of the government's Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program arranges his boxed pieces of luggage for loading into a bus en route to Leyte on Wednesday (May 20, 2020). For the first batch of beneficiaries, some 121 persons enrolled in the program through an online application, according to an official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

MANILA – Hoping to have better lives by returning home to their provinces, some 121 individuals availed of the government's “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa" program on Wednesday.

The coronavirus pandemic made the life of most Filipinos more difficult. Some lost their bread and butter when the National Capital Region was placed under enhanced community quarantine on March 16.

People were asked to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Businesses had to close, including factories and malls, while public transportation stopped.

Sadly, most workers from these sectors were on a “no work, no pay” scheme.

Mary Joy, a 22-year-old private school teacher in Bacoor, Cavite, said life was okay for her until the pandemic came.

She lives alone in Cavite since her whole family is in Leyte province.

Unable to send any money to her parents or even support her own needs during this trying time, she decided to avail of the government's Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program and return to Leyte for a fresh start.

Sa naranasan ko po ngayon na mahirap talaga mag-stay sa isang lugar na walang mag po-provide sa ‘yo ng pagkain, mas mabuting umuwi since andun din naman ang pamilya ko. Pumayag na din naman yung nanay ko na dun na lang din po ako magtrabaho. Siguro makakahanap din naman po ng trabaho dun. Sabi nya mag-try na lang ako mag apply dun (it is difficult to stay in a place where you have no one to provide food for you. It is better to go home since my family is there. My mother permitted me to go back and just look for a job there. I will just try to look for a job there)," she said in an interview on Wednesday.

Mary Joy is planning to continue teaching in the province, hoping that through the employment facilitation assistance to be given by different government agencies, it will be easier for her to find a school in her hometown where she could work.

Many of those residing and working in urban areas like Manila, in reality, are from the provinces.

They migrated to the metropolis to find a job, thinking that it is much easier to find work in Manila and its nearby areas as these comprise the biggest bulk of jobs in the country.

A good number of those who came from the province ended up working in factories, construction companies, and the transportation sector as jeepney and tricycle drivers.

However, these same people had to stop going to work due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Wading through the pandemic

When the ECQ was imposed, most residents from the NCR survive the day through relief goods and cash assistance given by the national and the local governments, but these were not enough to feed to get them through the crisis.

Malou, 26, used to work in a well-known donut company in Manila, which stopped operations due to quarantine restrictions.

She is happy knowing that she will soon be reunited with her parents and siblings in Tunga, Leyte.

Buntis ako at gusto ko rin na umuwi na (I'm pregnant and I also want to go home),” she said.

Three years ago, Malou left her province and tried her luck in Manila, so she could earn more and help her family.

She was delighted when she learned that the government was rolling out a program that could help people like her to have a fresh start in life in the province.

Marami namang programa ang gobyerno so marami silang matutulungan. May text na po sila sa'min kung ano-ano po yung pwede nilang itulong para sa'min. Pwede pong pang-kabuhayan o di kaya trabaho na pwede nilang mai-offer sa'min, may DOLE (the government has programs which can help people. I received a text message on the programs I could avail, even livelihood or employment assistance from DOLE),” Malou said.

Even her pregnancy did not prevent her from going home for good as long as she is safe.

Roger, on the other hand, is hopeful as he returns to Baybay, Leyte with his five-year-old son which he brought with him three years ago.

He will soon be reunited with his wife and daughter.

While he is aware that they will be placed under quarantine for 14 days as soon as they arrive in Leyte, he said it's fine with him if that would assure the safety of his family in the province.

"Pumunta po ako dito sa Maynila para magtrabaho kaso ganito eh, kaya gusto ko bumalik na lang sa probinysa para doon na mag-hanapbuhay (I came to Manila to work, but unfortunately, we are in this situation now that is why I want to go home and work there)”.

Roger is planning to avail of the governments' livelihood program as he used to grow vegetables and raised hogs in the province before coming to Manila.

Here, he lived in the house of her older sister and found work in a construction company in Manila, but said his salary is not enough for him and his son and he still needs to send money back home.

After hearing the news about the Balik Probinsya program, he asked his sister to help him to apply online.

"Ayon sa nabasa ko, maganda siya. Makakatulong siya sa mga kagaya ko. Tutulungan daw kami, kunyari sa agriculture, mga ganyan. Inaano ko yung sa agriculture, medyo me alam din ako konti eh, pagtatanim, ganyan (From I've read, the program is good. People like me will benefit from this. I want to avail of the agricultural assistance since I used to farm).”

Roger is happy that he is coming home especially that he was unable to return to the province since he left for Manila, as he expressed gratitude to the government for rolling out this program.

More opportunities sought

Rina Cervantes, 39, is coming home to Hilongos, Leyte with her husband, a jeepney driver, and their two young daughters.

She said her husband decided that they apply for the Balik Probinsya program because he finds life in the city becoming more difficult.

Siya ang nag-ano mismo sa amin umuwi, matagal na niya gusting umuwi dahil nahihirapan na rin siya dito. Maganda dito kung me hanap-buhay ka, buhay ang pamilya mo talaga. Pero mahirap dito pag isa lang ang nagta-trabaho at nagkataon pa mawalan ng trabaho, gutom. Katulad ngayon nagkaron nitong Covid, eh driver lang siya, nawalan ng kita, wala talaga (He wants us to all go home. He wanted to go back to the province for some time now because he already finds it difficult here. It's okay to live here if one has a job, if not, we will go hungry, like what is happening now),” Cervantes said.

The family has been living in Pasay for the last nine years, and she sees life to be easier for them in the province.

She said they have a small piece of land where her husband can plant some vegetables and at the same time, raise some animals.

Rina believes that the Balik Probinsya program will be able to help many others who wish to go back to their provinces.

"Sa totoo lang, kung sa probinsya mabibigyan ng mga trabaho dun, wala nang pupunta dito, tsaka kung yung sweldo, halimbawa ang minimum dito nasa 600 dun kahit gawing 480 or 500, hindi na pupunta dito kasi mabubuhay na sila. Dito lahat ng pagkain mo binibili, doon kung kailangan mo ng malunggay makakahingi ka sa kapitbahay. Kung masipag ka pwede ring magtanim, hindi ka na bibili (if people in the provinces will be given jobs, and that salary will be adjusted, they will not go here anymore because that will be enough. Here, we have to buy everything, in the province, you can ask malunggay from your neighbor. One may also plant some vegetable and you don't have to buy)," she said. (PNA)