BACK HOME. Criselyn Tolomia (2nd from left) and her children arrive at the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa depot in Quezon City for pre-departure procedures on Thursday (Nov. 18, 2021). After they and 21 others were declared coronavirus-free, they left for Negros Oriental the following day. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)

MANILA – The Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa (BP2) Program couldn’t have come at a better time when Criselyn Tolomia thought all is lost for her and her two children.

The 47-year-old Tolomia resigned as an office staff in Makati after giving birth to her youngest child, now aged two.

Her plan was to immediately return to work once she has adjusted.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Buti na lang na-timing talaga itong Balik Probinsya. Akala ko nga wala na eh kasi nakita ko lang to sa Facebook kaya grinab ko na agad (The Balik Probinsya happened at the right time. I thought it was no longer available until I read it on Facebook so I grabbed the opportunity),” she said in an interview before their departure on Friday.

Now, she is already in Negros Oriental with her children, the eldest of whom is aged nine – all expenses paid for by BP2 and with additional cash grants and livelihood assistance.

They left with four other families composed of 21 persons.

Before applying for the BP2 program, Tolomia had bought bus and roll-on/roll-off tickets worth PHP5,000 and decided to go back to the province by September.

However, she had to forfeit the tickets as she couldn’t afford the additional expenses, like for swab tests.

"Buti na lang meron tong programang ito. Salamat talaga kasi ang hirap din talaga mag-ipon ng pamasahe (It’s good that the government has this BP2 program that truly helps people. It is not easy to save money for transportation)," she said.

Life in Metro Manila was difficult, Tolomia realized.

Plano ko na talaga kasi gusto ko na mag-settle sa probinsya kasi nahihirapan na ako sa buhay dito sa Maynila kasi nagre-rent. Lahat gastos din. Unlike doon pwedeng mag-alaga ng manok, baboy, magtinda-tinda. Kung may trabaho man o opportunity, pwede rin magtrabaho. Eh dito ang hirap (I have been planning to settle in the province because of the difficulties here especially that we are only renting a house. Unlike in the province where I can raise hogs or chicken or have a small store or even apply for a job if there is an opportunity),” she said.

She also sees a better future and a safer environment for her children in the province, not to mention fresh air and an abundance of fresh produce.

Tolomia said she is more than willing to undergo livelihood training that will give her new learnings and skills in running a business.

For now, Tolomia and her children are temporarily staying at her grandmother's house.

Malaking pasalamat ko sa gobyerno na nakabuo nitong programang ito dahil marami talagang natutulungan lalo na sa mga nahihirapan, hindi lang kami. Palagay ko mas marami pa itong matutulungan. Sana mapalaganap pa ito (I am very grateful to the government for this program because this can help so many people especially those in difficult situations, not only us. I think many more will benefit from this program),” Tolomia said.

The BP2 Program aims to address Metro Manila's congestion problem by encouraging dwellers who have provinces to return to, especially informal settlers, to go home and they will be assisted until they get settled.

Since last year, the BP2 program has already sent home 435 individuals to Leyte, Bulacan, Davao del Norte, Isabela, Camarines Sur, Apayao, Agusan del Sur, Cebu, Bohol, Dinagat Islands, and Negros Oriental. (PNA)