MANILA – The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis has made life more difficult for people already struggling even before the pandemic.
Edwin Pahilaga, a security guard, thought he was lucky when he was not retrenched after the outsourcing company he was working for in Pasig City had to lay off employees as a cost-cutting measure.
But his luck was short-lived.
“Hindi pa ako nasama sa mga na-layoff noon kaya naramdaman ko na maswerte pa ako. Pero nung kalaunan, nagbawas pa sila ulit ng empleyado. Napilitan din sila na tanggalin ako mga late March (I felt lucky at first because I avoided the first batch of employees who were laid off. But as the situation worsened, they also had to let go of me. I did not have a job by March 2020),” the 55-yer-old Pahilaga said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Thursday.
He and his wife, Trinidad, 54, had to make ends meet by selling native rice cakes to neighbors and on the road.
Their meager earnings were not enough to sustain living in Metro Manila, including house rentals.
“Mahirap na talaga. ‘Yung kain namin, itlog na lang talaga para makatipid (It was difficult. We limit our diet to eggs so we can maximize our savings),” Pahilaga said.
Early this month, Pahilaga decided to apply for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program with his wife, a 13-year-old son, and 28-year old nephew.
“Nakapag-decide kami na umuwi na lamang sa Isabela. At least doon wala kaming binabayarang renta at malapit kami sa mga kamag-anak (We decided to leave for Isabela. At least we won’t be paying for rent there and some of our relatives live close by),” he added.
The BP2 Program is geared towards addressing Metro Manila’s congested areas by encouraging those living under challenging conditions to return to their home provinces.
They will be fully assisted in their transition with financial support, free transportation, subsistence and education assistance, and livelihood training.
Pahilaga said he has also been promised work opportunity when he gets home to Isabela in the Cagayan Valley Region, a nine-hour drive from Quezon City where the BP2’s holding area is located.
“Nagpapasalamat kami at mayroong ganitong programa ang gobyerno na nararapat para sa aming mga taga-probinsya na dito nakahanap ng trabaho sa Maynila. Ngayong may pandemya, napagdesisyunan namin na mas makakabuting bumalik kami sa aming tunay na tahanan (We are thankful that there is such a program that will serve us, people from the province who found jobs in Manila. Now that there is a pandemic, we have decided that it will be better for us to go back to our hometown),” he said.
If Pahilaga, his wife, son, and six others test negative for Covid-19, they will be driven home to the province by midnight.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) assessed their situations and qualifications to identify what livelihood assistance, skills development training, and other related opportunities will suit them.
National Housing Authority data showed that from May 2020 to July 2, 2021, the total number of beneficiaries who availed of the BP2 program has reached 365. (PNA)