VILLAVICIOSA, Abra – Jensen Afos, 32 years old, used to receive a fixed salary as a family driver in Baguio City but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, his family decided to avail of the “Balik Probinsiya” (back to the province) program of the government.
Afos said their application was approved in 2020 being a part of the first batch of applicants in the program to return to the province from the city, a fact he shared to the media on the sidelines of the site visit of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Cordillera KALAHI CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services Kapangyarihan at Kaunlaran sa Barangay) partnership forum here on Thursday at his residence.
He said they used the assistance to start a livelihood as a hog raiser, saying in Ilocano “I started with 10 piglets and was able to sell them after several months. From the proceeds, I bought 11 piglets which I also sold upon their maturity. Now I am having a new set as a third batch.”
He added that the money from the sales was not just used for the repurchase of animals but also their daily needs and a tricycle.
“I think we are in a better condition and I can probably make my wife come home for good when she returns home for a vacation because we can already survive with the assistance we received from the government (pointing at the pigs at his back where the pigpens are located).”
He said that not just him, but their small children need their mother to help care for them as they have three children, one in daycare, while the older ones are in Grade 1 and 2 whom he cares for alone while his wife works overseas.
The family is among the four “Balik Probinsiya” beneficiaries in this town.
Evelyn Vergara, municipal social welfare and development officer of Villaviciosa, in a separate interview, said the other beneficiaries opted to have other livelihood activities like goat raising and a sari-sari store business.
These are just two among the 222 families from the Cordillera who opted to return to the province with the help of the government to make them start a new life outside the cities.
Aside from Jensen and his family, Fernando and Cecil Micua, a couple for 22 years and now permanent residents of Danglas, Abra said “hindi ko na alam ang date kasi wala na kaming hinihintay na darating na sahod ng akinse at katapusan pero wala na rin kaming inaabangan na date sa pagbabayad ng renta ng bahay at tubig (I don’t even know the dates anymore because we are not looking forward to the 15th and 30th but we are not also waiting for said dates to pay the rent and the city services).”
Cecil, a native of Agusan del Sur that married an Abreño who was a security officer in Metro Manila said that “kahit pa malaki ang sahod noon, pag lumabas ka na ng bahay, wala ng sukli ang pera mo (no matter how big your income is, upon going out of the house, you are left with nothing).”
She said that at specific dates of the month, they have to prepare PHP4,000 for house rent; an average of PHP1,400 for water; and PHP1,300 for electricity, leaving them empty handed and without a centavo of savings despite the regular monthly wage. When the pandemic came, their lives in the city became a gamble for survival.
Taking a chance with the “Balik Probinsiya” program and being promised assistance that they were not sure they will receive, the couple gambled with their family’s life, hopped on the bus, and traveled to Abra tagging along their only son who was 11 years old.
The Balik Probinsiya team sent off the family from the Quirino Grandstand. Upon the arrival of the bus at the capital town of the province, the family was fetched by the local government of Danglas, marking the start of the financial assistance of PHP35,000 as a transitory support package from the DSWD for basic needs, which the spouses used to buy a lot for a house.
Another PHP50,000 was handed by the DSWD as a livelihood fund, using the money to buy piglets which they raised and later sold.
The Department of Agriculture also assisted in providing two matured pigs and feeds, which gave them a total of 12 heads.
The family was also given relocation assistance and transitory housing assistance.
“We will be buying new pigs to raise,” Cecil said.
For the first time, Cecil shared that they butchered one of the pigs and served half of it for her birthday, and slowly consumed the other half for food.
She said they are waiting for permanent housing support with their family staying in Abra permanently.
Cecil said the more important result of their decision to avail of the Balik Probinsiya program is the welfare of their son.
“I was starting to lose control of my son which worried us and moving to the province, we knew we will be a better place to raise our son,” she said.
Christopher Daoayen, social work officer of the DSWD in the Cordillera who is in charge of the program said that the region received 222 individuals who availed of the program as of October 14 since 2021.