STARTING PROVINCIAL LIFE. Rommelyn Francisco and her husband Godofredo Lupango get briefed by a Department of Social Welfare and Development personnel on the assistance they can get under the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2)” Program at the BP2 depot in Quezon City on Monday (March 15, 2022). The couple is bound for Mobo, Masbate province to start a new life. (PNA photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)

MANILA – Rommelyn Francisco, 36, was born and raised in Manila. Her partner Godofredo Lupango, 61, was a native of Mobo, Masbate who ended up in Metro Manila in search of a better life.

The two met in the garment industry. Godofredo was a tailor while Rommelyn was a trimmer. They became a couple 12 years ago and were gifted with five children.

Like any other couple, at first, the two were doing fine with their job, earning minimum wage in a dress-making company in Blumentritt, Manila City.

As they started to form a family, they rented a home in a slum area of Tondo, Manila. They lived a happy and simple life with their kids.

Apart from striving harder to pay for their monthly dues including rental fees, payments for utility bills like electricity and water, as well as their daily expenses for food—the couple has also saved for the education of their five children.

They cited the importance of finishing studies to be able to land a better job and have an income that is more than enough—as they were both high school graduates only.

Despite lacking college degrees, they started to dream bigger for their children.

However, all their dreams have suddenly collapsed when they met terrible news.

Their eldest child got infected with severe meningitis.

At the same time, the couple was struggling with the upsetting impact of the global health crisis. Both their jobs were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Kahit ako may sakit nagtatrabaho ako kasi iniisip ko pa rin yung mga anak ko, kung ano ang kakainin nila. Kaya kahit ako may nararamdaman, pumapasok ako sa trabaho kahit ang sahod paputol-putol (Even though I’m sick, I still go to work because I’m still thinking about my children, what would they eat. That’s why I still work even if I’m not feeling well, I still go to work even if I rarely get paid),” Godofredo said, adding that he had to take up different jobs to earn extra for his sick child.

The saddest part was, they used up all their savings for the medical needs of their eldest, but the kid ended up dying during the pandemic.

The couple has to start again as they still have four children to feed and should be sent to schools.

“Sobrang hirap, lalo na ‘nung pandemic—ang hirap maghanap ng trabaho kasi ang kinukuha nila college graduate (It’s so hard, especially during the pandemic, it’s so hard to find a job because they require a college graduate),” Rommelyn said.

New life chapter in Masbate

When the couple heard about the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2)” Program, they immediately grabbed the opportunity to apply. Luckily, Godofredo qualified for the program and became a beneficiary.

Rommelyn said becoming part of the BP2 program will allow them "to open another chapter of their life and restart again."

“Malaking pag-asa po nitong programa. Magbibigay aral din po ito sa mga anak ko kung paano mamuhay ng payak sa probinsya (This program would be a huge help. It will teach my children to live a simple life in the province),” she added.

Once home, Rommelyn said she will teach her kids to persevere more while in the province.

“Para sa akin na taga-Maynila, alam ko at least sa probinsya may katahimikan ka, makikita mo ang ganda ng kalikasan at may kapayapaan sa paligid. At saka yung pagalang, gusto ko rin matutunan ng mga anak ko (For me as someone who lives in Manila, I know that at least in the province there’s peace, you can see the beauty of nature and there is peace around. And I also want my children to learn to respect),” she said.

Rommelyn added: “Kami naman pong taga-Maynila bale alam na po namin ang hirap dito sa Maynila kasi kada kilos niyo po [may katumbas] na pera kaya pamasahe lang, pagkain—eh sa amin lalo na’t marami kaming anak eh hindi pa sasapat tapos nangungupahan lang kami, palipat-lipat pa (For Manila residents like us, we really know how hard to live here, because every move you make, it requires money, including for fare, for food—for people like us who have many children—it won’t be enough, especially that we're just renting home, we have to move from one place to the other).”

Meanwhile, Godofredo wishes to start a sewing business once back in his hometown.

He said it would be a sound decision to return to the province since there’s no need to pay for everything there, unlike here in the metro.

“Doon kasi pwede kang magtanim para sa kakainin mo. Hindi katulad dito bawat kilos may bayad (Because you can plant there to make you own foods. Unlike here you need to pay for your every action),” he added.

The couple said their utmost priority is to start saving money for their children and work hard to build their own house that they stay with for good. They also want to get a marriage license.

The government's BP2 program, which was institutionalized through Executive Order No. 114, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 6, 2020, has already facilitated the return of some 654 individuals to their respective provinces.

It aims to address congestion in Metro Manila and assist informal settlers to regain their lives through several incentives on transportation, sustainable livelihood, skills training, housing subsistence, health and education assistance, among others.

Eight families and a solo traveler, composed of 37 individuals left Quezon City on Tuesday going to the province of Masbate. (PNA)