When the pandemic hit in 2020, it triggered an exodus of workers from Metro Manila to the provinces. The National Capital Region is home to almost 13 million residents or at least 21,000 persons per square kilometer. But due to the effects of the pandemic, many workers had no choice but to go home to their provinces. Some of these workers include young creatives who rely on freelance work.
This comes at a time when the House of Representatives is pushing for a “Creative Industries Bill,” authored by Rep. Christopher de Venecia of the fourth district of Pangasinan. The bill aims to help to create policies that boost the creative industry, outline long term plans, and put government efforts in place.
In a recent study session on the bill through Zoom, held to consult artists and creatives about the stipulations in the current version of the Creative Industries Bill, many shared their experience of being taxed twice (both withholding tax, taken out of their talent fees, as well as their regular filings with the BIR), though they still pay for their own overhead. Other creatives also raised issues about taxation and how some creatives may not be able to meet those requirements since some are paid with substandard rates.
Some of the young creatives affected by the pandemic made the choice to move back to their province as this was more economical. The rising prices and uncertain employment in Metro Manila would mean they would be gambling their future.
Creatives Darlene Salumbre and siblings Scott Jason and Sharmaigne Bayona are three of those who decided to come back to their province to work for the meantime. For these three creatives who decided to work from home in Candelaria, Zambales, they first made it a point to get the jab to protect their loved ones.
As of this writing, Zambales has a total of 730 active cases of COVID-19 with 66 of these cases from Candelaria. With the number of infected continuing to swell, Zambales upgraded its Community Quarantine Classification from Modified General Community Quarantine to General Community Quarantine with Heightened Restrictions.
But for them, amid the number of cases in the province, working here is still safer than in the metro.
Lower cost of living, having family and friends within arm's reach, fresh food, and being close to nature are a few of the advantages they mentioned. But the main reason they decided to relocate is to ease the mental health burden of worrying about their finances and health while staying in Metro Manila during the pandemic.
Darlene Salumbre, 27, business development manager
At the onset of the pandemic, a lot of people were forced to quarantine and stay together. Many took it as a chance to spend quality time with families. But as the quarantine dragged on, some people found this setup a bit more challenging.
"I decided to move back to the province for my mental health so that I can have peace of mind,” says Darlene Salumbre, business development manager for an engineering and creative firm. “We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Makati and I feel suffocated because we were contained in our space and no fresh air.”
Coming home to the province has lifted Salumbre's financial woes brought about by the pandemic. Back in the city, she used to spend a huge chunk of her budget on apartment rental and other utilities.
"In Manila, our monthly expenses were around 90% of my salary because of rent (₱13,000), electricity, internet & food but because of ECQ, we were [put] on forced leave. Because my leaves had already been consumed, it's considered as no work, no pay. That's when I decided that it's time to move back to Zambales. Right now I am contributing to our expenses like internet, electricity, and toiletries which is around ₱8,000 a month. We don't have to pay the rent here. Which is a really big savings for me," Salumbre says.
Salumbre values her solitary time. Before the pandemic she already crafted a routine she follows whenever she feels overwhelmed.
"Well, when I was in Makati I was stressed almost every day because of bills and COVID-19,” she says. “I really value my time alone but because of the pandemic, I couldn't go back to my usual ritual when I am stressed. I kinda feel that I didn't have my space when we were in Makati. That's why when we moved back to the province I was able to rebuild that boundary."
Candelaria is fortunate enough to be situated between the mountains and the sea, and having this kind of accessibility makes working from home for Salumbre more alluring. “Whenever I am stressed with work, I can just walk to the beach which is five minutes away from our house, and take a break,” she says.
Apart from walking to the beach, Salumbre bikes and paints to clear her head.
“I usually bike every weekend to enhance my cardio especially if it's sunny and do yoga almost every day,” says Salumbre. “I also started trying paint-by-numbers, so I purchased a few paint kits online and I find it very calming and therapeutic.”
Asked whether she still sees herself working in the office when things get better, Salumbre says, "It depends because I like my life now in the province since I’m close to the beach, I can stick to my diet religiously because there is no fast food here and cheaper food or sometimes it's free pa, you can ask your neighbor if you want some veggies. Plus if my work can be done remotely it wouldn’t make sense for me to move back to the office and then start paying bills again such as rent, utilities, etc. I’d rather stay here and allot that money in my investments or building my home here."
Scott Jason Bayona, 37, senior process executive
Candelaria is a six-hour drive to Manila and the quarantine restrictions made it even harder for family members to be reunited.
To keep his parents safe, Scott Jason Bayona, a senior process executive for a tech company, decided not to visit the province for a year. But, the stress of the city and the longing for his parents were too much to bear. Thus, his decision to come home to Candelaria.
"We usually do video call nung start ng pandemic,” he shares. “Mga more than a year kaming hindi nagkita-kita sa personal. We opted to stay in Manila before for our parent's safety."
The move to the province has helped him, citing health, financial freedom, and being close with family as the advantages for living in the province.
"First is health, I was able to sleep more and be more productive at work. Financially because it's cheaper living in the province. I get to be with my family and friends." said Bayona.
He described a complete change from his hectic lifestyle in the metro, where the noise pollution and fast-pace took a toll on him.
He says, “Mas relaxed ang feel ng nandito sa probinsya compared sa Manila. Alam mo naman sa Manila maingay. Busy mga tao. Maaga pa lang naririnig mo na busy mga tao sa labas. Also, I was spending a lot when I was in Manila. I pay rent, food, utilities among other things. It became easier when I went back here because so much more of the stuff I buy in Manila I get here for free.”
Compared to his city work setup, work from home in the province made him more efficient.
“I work more efficiently and relaxed. I get to be with family members and my bed is just a few feet away from me. The air is fresh. The food is fresh. There's nothing more I could ask for,” said Bayona.
With the flexibility of working from home, Bayona even contemplates going back in the metro for work but with a caveat. "I still think of working in the city but after the pandemic is done or at least when most Filipinos have their vaccine already. I do not want to gamble my family's health or my health. On the other hand, I could just work here in the province since I have the option to work at home,” he said.
Sharmaigne Bayona, 29, freelance multimedia designer
Fewer expenses, zero office politics, being with family, and the flexibility of working anytime are freelance multimedia designer Sharmaigne Bayona's reasons for the transition.
“The workload was too much for me. It took a toll on my body. That's why my family urged me to resign and start freelancing here in the province instead. I am happy working all the time here. Kasi kasama parents, may tatawag sayo kapag kakain na.”
Financially, her usual expenses in Manila were around ₱15,000. Now, since rental fees and other miscellaneous expenses were out of the equation, her spending has been down to ₱5,000.
“Puyat ako lagi kapag nasa Manila. Todo grind ako doon. Dito not much kasi nga less gastos,” says Sharmaigne.
Working in the province has given her more time to brainstorm other ventures worth pursuing.
Starting a burger business was her way of taking a breather from work. Along with her brother who does the cooking, she manages all the marketing collaterals of their business.
“Nung nag lunch kami, napag usapan lang namin na why not magbenta kami ng burger, mahilig kasi kami kumain ni kuya, since work-from-home kami, yung natitira namin na oras is ginugul namin sa pagtitinda ng burger,” said Sharmaigne. “Naging side hustle namin siya, hanggang sa gumawa ako ng Facebook [page] tas minarket ko, since ang work ko naman is graphic design plus nasa marketing side ako, so ginamit ko yung mga natutunan ko sa corporate world. Hanggang sa tinuloy-tuloy na namin ‘tong business namin at until now nagdadagdag kami ng mga recipes.”
As working from home became the norm when the pandemic hit, this meant that creatives could still keep their jobs and be mindful of their finances without the high cost of living. Rediscovering the simple things that really matter are an added bonus for creatives like Sharmaigne, Scott, and Darlene.