By Rey Anthony Chiu |08:50 AM June 11, 2022
Rowena Mercoleta was a fresh high school graduate from a public secondary high school in Alicia, Bohol, when she decided to gamble on her future. At stake was a future, but then, being staked at a farmer’s life for good, was a scary prospect on the other end of the pole.
Home is a hut atop a hill in Barangay Cambaol, some 5 kilometers of snaking dirt road leading to the foot of Mount Labawan.
She desires to help her family, but the best she could do as a fresh Grade VII graduate was to do housework.
Or she has to stay in Sitio Binabaje, where her life would probably be burning the invasive cogon grasses to clear a patch to farm or be a low-paid store keeper in the city mall.
She knows life in a farm is laborious, and when it is tilling for somebody’s land, its doubles the burden.
Farming, while it is for food, ironically puts one on wait until the harvest to earn money. Rowena has had enough of it.
Fresh from Alicia Technical Vocational National High School, she, along with a classmate, decided to go with an agency seeking domestic workers for Manila.
“It was 2013, after earthquake, and after finishing Grade VII, that we went to Manila, to work,” she said as her son Ricky III was impatiently hovering nearby.
Getting a cash advance from the agency, Rowena bought a boat ticket to Manila, with very little pocket money left for her personal needs. With work soon, she hopes she can wipe her debt and earn after a while.
But like thousands of young graduates who see Manila as the land of promise, Rowena soon realized she just bit more than she can chew.
With young graduates like her heading for the cities, the only work left was the menial jobs.
She was to help tend a store in Bulacan, and the pay was meager. If not for a guy she met, it would have been a job ending sooner than she thought.
Ricky, like her, traveled from Bicol to Manila, to seek his fortune. She found Rowena.
In the backrooms of the store they were tending, teen-age love bloomed between them.
As the love ignites, the kindling adventure for the promise in the city has sizzled; the burning desire now a flickering light nipped by the awakening truth.
Life in the city is hard. With help too far out, a little love is her refuge.
They decided soon to settle as a family. And their chances of getting out of the bond, grew slimmer. Especially when they soon had a baby.
Forced to be a full-time mother, Rowena has to keep the baby while Ricky finds a new job in a factory in Velenzuela. There, they resettled, the house rental adding much on their already tight budget.
When she conceived for their second child, they both agreed: they might not survive in the urban jungle, after all.
In 2020, they heard of the government’s program Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2).
The Program aims to provide hope for a better future to Filipinos through equity in resources and boost countryside development.
“BP2 is geared towards decongesting Metro Manila’s urban areas by encouraging people, especially informal settlers like Rowena to return to their home provinces. Here, the government will assist them in this transition with support and incentives on transportation, family, livelihood, housing, subsistence and education, among others.
BPBP is also implemented in cooperation with government agencies like the Office of the President, Presidential Communications Operations Office, Presidential Management Staff, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Trade and Industry.
Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Economic Development Authority, National Housing Authority.
Department of Agrarian Reform, Technical Education Skills development Authority, Office of the Press Secretary, Department of Transportation and Communication, Department of Education, Department of Public Works and Highways.
Also in are the Commission on Higher Education, Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Finance and the Mindanao Development Authority.
Since 2020, Rowena and Ricky applied for the program, and recently, they were called for an interview.
A few weeks later, with daughter Rica Wendy Shane 5, yeas old and Ricky III, 3, Rowena boarded the plane with some few pesos cash allowance for their food.
In Panglao Bohol, outside the airport, a van was waiting to bring them home to the hills of Cambaol.
Asked how she feels upon their arrival, Rowena was speechless. When she found the words, these spilled with profuse words of thanks and appreciation.
Dugay ra gyud unta mi manguli, pero ang sweldo gani, kulang ra sa pagkaon. Daghang salamat sa goberno ug sa Balik Probinsya kay natabangan mi nga makauli.
Rowena and her kids are just three of the 25 Boholanos from five towns who have availed of the government’s BP2 to leave the city for good and arrived in Bohol last week. With them were families also from Mabini, Dauis, Bilar and Calape.
When they arrived, a short welcome program allowed them to browse through government programs that they can avail while they are transitioning to a sustainable life here.
They also received a pail-full of packed goods from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and a few kilos or rice to each member.
Also awaiting for them are livelihood packages from the DTI, DOLE, TESDA as well as work skills trainings, free education packages for kids, housing assistance, farming technologies, and other life coaching training to make them strong enough to stand and live on their own.
After all, for the BP2 beneficiaries, the government in a whole of nation approach, intends to ensure the continuous improvement of economies and quality of life in the provinces with long term plans on various investments in infrastructure, agriculture, business, transportation and access to a responsive healthcare system.
For Rowena, these offers are good, but then, two months pregnant and with her husband still in Manila to work to pay for their debts they incurred while preparing for the journey home, it would be until she can have him to work with, can she be assured of making yet another bold try.
Ricky also comes from a farming family. At most, they will have large patches of lands in Cambaol, to sow seeds of new hope. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)