Since the pandemic started in March last year, Metro Manila has had 15 changes to its community quarantine classifications already. As of this writing, for instance, the capital region has recently just shifted from Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).
With these changes, of course, come the changes in how we live. Being under ECQ and MECQ, for example, limits transportation and business operations (only those that sell essential goods and provide essential services are usually allowed operations), which is under the government’s premise that limiting mobility will also control the spread of the virus. As a result, millions of Filipinos’ day-to-day living is greatly affected.
So, some people have already come to the point when they said “enough” and just packed their bags and moved away.
Leaving the city
Chardie Remorta, 26, had previously worked in two business process outsourcing (BPO) companies in Cebu City for roughly seven years, although, he said, "I am not really the city type of person. Growing up, I hated the buzz of the city and the sounds of the jeepneys and vehicles passing by. But because the opportunities were in the city, I stayed and worked there.”
Back when he was still working in Cebu City, Remorta had experienced anxiety and depression caused by a wide variety of factors, although he said that the fast-paced city life definitely had a toll on him. Add to that a global pandemic, and it made the living conditions in the city even worse for him.
“We are put just inside our room. We are not allowed to go out and meet with our friends. I have not been able to meet my parents. While we were able to talk over the phone, still, face-to-face conversations with people are still different,” Remorta said.
The pandemic had also raised a lot of questions in Remorta’s head, which eventually led him to feel more anxious and depressed. “I went to a psychologist to seek professional help. They told me, ‘Find yourself, find what you love, do what your passions are, and do the things that you have not tried doing yet.’"
This was when Remorta thought of relocating away from the city. “I have always been planning to relocate even before the pandemic. This was the perfect time to do it,” he said.
He saw a Facebook post by his friend, who was then working in the Tagbilaran, Bohol site of TaskUs, a provider of outsourced digital services. “He kept posting that he liked his job and that he loved working there, so I thought I wanted what he has. He told me he could refer me to his employer but only if I was willing to be relocated. I have never been to Bohol before, but I thought it would be cool to live and work in a place that I have never been in.”
Just last April, Remorta packed his bags, left his hometown Cebu City, and moved to Tagbilaran, Bohol – a place that felt entirely new and foreign to him. Maybe, he thought, the change he was longing for could be found here.
I have always been planning to relocate even before the pandemic. This was the perfect time to do it.Chardie Remorta, 26
Meanwhile, Charles Justine Go, 26, works as an automation engineer for a US-based marketing company that has its Philippine office in Taguig City. He used to work daily at the office, although, just like everybody else, he was forced to be on a work-from-home (WFH) set-up when the pandemic hit.
“My work-from-home setup in Pasig was decent. I have my own place where I could work productively and peacefully,” Go shared. “But I found my schedule in Manila routinary. I usually wake up around 7 in the morning and then work for the whole day. With that day-to-day scenario, I found my life slow-moving. I felt like I was stuck in a loop that never ends.”
Go, who admitted to being an extrovert and an outgoing person, always craved to do more. He wanted to go to the gym or hang out with his friends on a more regular basis (while observing safety and health protocols), but the often changing quarantine classifications in Metro Manila made this impossible for him. Also, Go had always wanted to have “a different atmosphere while being a corporate slave,” so the WFH set-up simply just was not working for him.
“I came down to the decision to spend a weeklong vacation in Boracay. I have always been in awe of its beauty, especially during sunset. I can just lay on the fine sand and appreciate nature,” Go said.
I found my schedule in Manila routinary... I found my life slow-moving. I felt like I was stuck in a loop that never ends.Charles Justine Go, 26
And so Go, along with his friends, went to Boracay last July 28 with a one-week travel itinerary; they were supposed to return to Manila on August 3.
But, as days passed while they were in Boracay, he considered the idea of staying longer in the island, especially as Metro Manila was announced to be on ECQ during the week that they were there.
“So,” Go continued, “a weeklong vacation in Boracay became a temporary working nest.”
Things to consider
The logistics did not go lost in the middle of the excitement. “We knew that there were a lot of things we needed to consider. For one, we needed a stable internet connection, especially for someone like me who works in the I.T. industry.”
Go was able to use the "relatively good" internet connection of the hotel's WiFi during his first week in Boracay. But when he moved to an apartment later, he had to share the WiFi with other tenants. "I would spend my working hours in a restaurant or a coffee shop that has a good internet connection. Or sometimes, I would be left with no choice but to use my phone's mobile data,” he shared.
Go and his friends also needed to look for good housing where they could live comfortably as they planned to live there longer. Just as when they decided to extend their vacation, they moved to a cheaper apartment – which has a kitchen, living area, and 2 bedrooms – for longer-term accommodation. They decided to live with other housemates (who later became good friends) so that they could spend less on rent.
Renelyn Moreno-Bueno, a unit manager and financial advisor at Sun Life, has advice to people who are also considering living temporarily in a rural town, just like what Remorta and Go did. "Make sure that the apartment is in a good and strategic location. This is important especially if you do not have your own car. Transportation in rural areas, particularly in tourist islands, are often expensive. Find an apartment that is near the public market or essentials store," she said.
"Initially, it was hard for me to adjust since this is a new set of people that I had to live with. But eventually, we got along – I even became the chef of the group who cooks everybody's breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Go shared of their set-up. "The others are assigned to other chores such as going to the market or cleaning up the rooms."
Go admitted that he has yet to deal with everybody's own work schedule, especially that he is used to living alone back in Pasig.
"It was hard for me to adjust in terms of the sleeping schedule because my three housemates work at night and I am the only one who works during the day. So they attend calls at night and I can hear them from my room,” he shared. “It was challenging, but now I am getting used to it already."
Pros and cons
Remorta moved to Bohol last April and has been living there for four months now already. On his Tiktok that now has more than 800,000 followers, he shares his life as a BPO employee and also his “new life” in Bohol.
“There are many pros here. Of course, there are the very beautiful beaches and the very friendly people – after all, Bohol is not called ‘City of Friendship’ for nothing!”, Remorta shared. “Also, I am still always surprised by how everything is so quiet and peaceful here by 7 in the evening. Every shop is closed already by that time. Whereas in the city, life is just starting by that time, right?”
Remorta’s idea of “happiness” has also vastly changed in the short period of time that he has been living in the quieter Bohol. “Cebu is very industrialized and the atmosphere is always very competitive. That kind of environment may work for some people, but not for me,” Remorta said. “I like how laidback life is here in Bohol. Going to the park or the beach gives me joy. Simple things like that make me happy already.”
The best pro for Remorta, he said, is the free life coaching sessions that he gets at his employer, TaskUs. These sessions are “a huge deal” for people like Remorta who have depression and anxiety conditions.
I realize that I am not alone and that I can be with other people on this journey. I feel like the heavens made a way for all of us to meet here in Bohol.Chardie Remorta, 26
“I have a weekly schedule with a mental health professional that is provided by TaskUs,” Remorta shared. “I also join group sessions where I join my co-employees and friends. I realize that I am not alone and that I can be with other people on this journey, if I choose to. I feel like the heavens made a way for all of us to meet here in Bohol.”
Go, on the other hand, is also very happy with his decision to live temporarily in Boracay.
“Comparing my WFH set-up in Boracay from that of my place in Pasig, I can definitely say that the differences are relatively evident. It is a good balance of pros and cons,” Go shared.
“For example, I liked that I can work in a coffee shop, in a restaurant, by the beach, or in my apartment here in Boracay – something that I obviously just cannot do in Pasig,” Go said. “But I had easy access to a 35mbps-internet speed in my condo in Pasig, whereas I only have 5mbps of shared internet speed here in Boracay.”
Go added, “Here in Boracay, the count of my daily steps ranges from 8.000 to 12.000, whereas when I am in my condo in Pasig, obviously I can barely exercise at all.”
“So the experience is really different,” he said. “The benefits and struggles are entirely different.”
As he is now in Boracay (which is currently under MECQ), he feels he can do more. "I still see living in Boracay as more relaxed than living in Manila. Despite the fact that Boracay is still in MECQ so restaurants are closing at 4:00 p.m. and curfew is strictly implemented at 10:00 p.m., I still have the beach and the sunset to enjoy," Go said. "Plus, in a way, we are helping the locals and tourism industry to bounce back as well."
Plans to stay longer
While what Remorta, Go, and many others did may seem fun and exciting, the question remains: Is it worth it?
For Moreno-Bueno, the financial advisor, it would depend on how long you intend to stay in this new town. "If you are planning to stay there for, say, more than six months, then yes, that should be worth it already, although you have to consider the hassle of having to update your present address in your identification documents," she said. "But if you only intend to stay for just a couple of months, I would not think that it is practical. For one, the transportation costs alone would be a lot already. Consider also that you might need to buy new furniture and other items that you did not bring with you when you came here."
Those who are used to urban living should also take in mind that there are a lot of things that are very limited in many rural areas, even if they are considered tourist hotspots.
This may be a good time for them to start getting life insurance and health insurance, opening a mutual fund account for investment, and creating another source of income. They should use the money that they save from living in a rural town to generate protection and more savings.Renelyn Moreno-Bueno, financial advisor
"Not everything is accessible. More often than not, the hospital and the market are far from your apartment. If something happens to you at night, do not expect that there is a taxi or a jeep that you can easily ride on to go to the hospital. Or if you are hungry at night, do not expect that there are food-delivery services available. Also, if you are used to using your credit card in the city, you may not be able to use that often when you are in a rural town," Moreno-Bueno said.
If a person decides to live in a rural town supposedly to take advantage of the assumed cheaper living costs, then they should also consider this as an opportunity to improve their spending habits, Moreno-Bueno said.
"They can start building income protection by starting a savings account for their emergency fund, which should be the amount of their six-month salary. This may also be a good time for them to start getting life insurance and health insurance, opening a mutual fund account for investment, and creating another source of income," Moreno-Bueno said. "They should definitely use the money that they save from living in a rural town to generate protection and more savings."
Go’s employer was highly supportive of his decision to live temporarily in Boracay, especially since they are still in a WFH setup until now. “She was actually very envious,” Go shared.
Does he plan to go back to Manila anytime soon? Go said he is still enjoying the island life and wants to experience more of it now that he is there already. “My plan is to stay in Boracay until October. I am still enjoying this experience and I am still learning a lot about myself through this set-up,” Go shared.
He added, “One thing is for sure: I am making a lot of memories and connections here, and that makes this decision even more worthwhile.”
Remorta is also reaping the benefits of the provincial life that he is enjoying so far.
“If things work out, I see myself living here in Bohol forever,” he said, bluntly. “Life here is generally more laidback and slower, and I like it. In the city, life is a race; here in the province, life is a journey.”
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines.