Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are considered as the country’s modern day heroes due to their significant contribution to the Philippine economy. Their remittances make up 9.2% of the country’s gross domestic product.

However, as the global pandemic struck in the early part of CY 2020, many of these modern day heroes faced unemployment and repatriation due to COVID 19 . Many were left unprepared of facing the future with no jobs and source of steady income.

Such circumstances brought OFWs like Engr. Ricardo Gasgonia, 48, and his wife Armie Reola Gasgonia, who both felt hopeless and worried of what life would be for them and their three children after being laid-off from his work as Mechanical Engineer in Fujaira, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“We were never prepared for this. Akala namin, it’s the end of the road for us,” Engr. Gasgonia told the RAFIS team in an interview as he recall how the pandemic affected him and his family. “Buti na lang, nandiyan ang gobierno upang tumulong para makapagpatuloy ng buhay at maka-survive,” he added.

ANYO Program brings spark of hope

Having been laid-off from his company, Engr. Gasgonia was left with no other choice but to go back home in the Philippines. But prior to his decision of leaving UAE together with his wife who also works as a teacher, a churchmate shared with them about the Balik Probinsiya-Bagong Pag-asa Program of the Duterte administration which encourages OFWs to access loans or credit assistance from the government for possible business venture.

Using the online platform, Engr. Ricky and his wife serached about the B2P2 program and came across the Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC) website which led them to become aware about the AgriNegosyo (ANYO) Loan assistance program.

Without wasting time and opportunity, the couple immediately inquired on the needed requirements to avail of the credit assistance with zero interest.
Learning about the requirements and process in availing said assistance, they sent letters thru online signifying their interest as borrowers under the program. They were then required to attend webinars and trainings to prepare them for their agribusiness venture.

Getting home in the Philippines amidst the pandemic where movement is restricted, Engr. Gasgonia busied himself reading agri-related IEC materials and watched other seminars online which gave him a better understanding on the new field he wanted to try which is in agriculture, a field very far from his profession as an engineer.

Being able now to manage their Faith Rice Mill (FRM) in Binalonan, Pangasinan, an investment they’ve made as OFWs for 15 years, gave them a new sense of purpose especially when their ANYO loan assistance was approved.

On January, 2021, the DA-ACPC through the SADECO lending conduit released their loan amounting to P300,000.00 which was used for the establishment of the FRM agricultural supply and area expansion for their rice mill.

“Kung naumpisahan lang sana namin 10 years ago, mas maganda.”, told Engr. Gasgonia referring to his agribusiness enterprise now which is the rice mill and agri-supply combined.

“Unti-unti kong natuklasan na ang saya pala dito sa pagsasaka. This is really something else. It is result-oriented. Magaan sa pakiramdam na yong negosyo mo ay nakakatulong sa iba lalo na sa mga magsasaka.”, he added.

Gaining confidence and enthusiasm to upgrade his business, he constantly coordinates with experienced individuals who have been in the farming business like leaders of farmers’ associations and cooperatives in Binalonan including the Office of the Municipal Agriculturist and the DA-PREC located in Sta. Barbara, Pangasinan.

Sharing his future plans, he wanted to upgrade the milling capacity of the rice mill from 1,000 kilograms per hour to one-tonner and would eventually move to a more strategic location like along the highway so that more customers would be able to conveniently access their business.

“Very promising po talaga ang agriculture business. Things are improving,” Engr. Gasgonia said.

Asked if he would still go back abroad when given the opportunity, without second thought, he said he now prefers managing his own business.

“Hindi na. magnenegosyo na ako dito. If we had known this business sa agriculture 10 years ago, ibang iba na siguro ang estado namin ngayon.”, he added.

Finding the freedom that he now enjoys having no boss to work for, Engr. Gasgonia is genuinely excited at his new found passion in agribusiness.

“Every day we are very excited. Narevitalize ako knowing I have my own business, I work at my own pace.”

There is hope in the government

Grateful for the opportunity that the government has given him, Engr. Gasgonia shared some advice to OFWs like him to have hope in the government. “Huwag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa. Andiyan po ang gobierno na handang tumulong sa atin. It is not yet the end of the world dahil may pandemya.”

“Huwag ng matakot mag “Balik Pilipinas” gaya namin. Napakalaki po ng potential kapag umuwi kayo, you just have to make the right choice,” Ngayon ko naramdaman na sincere talaga ang ating gobyernong na matulungan tayo, lalo na ng DA, upang malagpasan natin ang dagok na dulot ng pandemya.” Engr. Gasgonia said as he added how this experience changed his mindset about the government.#

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