MANILA – Members of the Dumagat Remontado tribe lived in Brgy for the past 5 decades. Laiban, Tanay and Rizal were without electricity.
Sitios Magata and Manggahan were at the foot of the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains and, due to their remote location and the risk of flooding, were not connected to the Philippines' electricity grid when the then proposed Laiban Dam was built.
As soon as the sun went down, the residents of the two Sitios had to stop their livelihoods and the children had to stop studying – unless their household could afford a generator or had a solar system for their home.
Communities' electricity needs became urgent when the COVID-19 pandemic last year forced many Filipino children to take blended learning through printed modules and online courses.
The already complicated energy situation in the Sitios worsened when Typhoon Ulysses hit Luzon in November 2020 and completely damaged a bridge connecting the Sitios.
A Dumagat family carries the TekPak they received from the ICSC and 350 pilipinas as they crossed the river towards Sitio Magata. In the background you can see the bridge that was destroyed during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses last November 2020. Photo courtesy AC Dimatatac / ICSC
In January of this year the non-governmental organization Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, the climate protection group 350 Pilipinas and the Pantawid Pamilya team from the local Ministry of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) handed over 3 Solar-TekPaks and 3 NIWA solar power systems to the two communities.
Arturo Tahup, Associate for Community Resilience at ICSC, said she and her partner organizations had decided to extend aid after learning what had happened.
“In terms of energy demands, they are clearly off-grid. In terms of the effects of Quinta, Rolly, Ulysses (it was) clear. I see the bridge is ruined. Drifting. Then your riverside and other houses were washed away too,” said Tahup, referring to successive storms that occurred last year.
(In terms of power requirements, they are clearly off-grid. In terms of the effects of typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses, this was clear. Their bridge collapsed and was swept away by the river. The river banks and houses were also destroyed.)
“The aim is to use the Tekpaks to provide the Dumagat Remontado community, which has long suffered from electricity poverty, with humanitarian renewable energy,” said Tahup of her Solar Scholars Training Program.
The 3 solar TekPaks or portable solar powered generators given to Magata and Manggahan were made and donated by 350 volunteer pilipinas and typhoon Yolanda survivors from Leyte and Eastern Samar.
The survivors who witnessed the negative effects of climate change when Typhoon Yolanda killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013 were ICSC-trained “solar scientists”.
ICSC and 350 Pilipinas, in collaboration with the Tanay Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO), conducted basic training in solar technology for the Dumagat Remontado communities in Sitios Manggahan and Magata, Brgy. Laiban, Tanay Rizal, January 26, 2021. Photo courtesy of AC Dimatatac / ICSC
Solar powered generators, provided by the organizations and scholars, gave Magata and Manggahan residents access to cheaper electricity for their lights, cell phones, and other essential devices. You can also power medical equipment like nebulizers from ICSC and the other groups.
According to the ICSC, the children of the tribe benefited as the new power source gave them access to electronics needed for distance learning.
The 370 households in Sitios Magata and Manggahan are among the more or less 2 million households in the Philippines that are “not supplied with electricity”.
According to Mario Marasigan, director of the Department of Energy, most of their unserved households are in Mindanao, but there are also a few in Luzon and Visayas.
“They are unprofitable areas. We are on the last mile of energy. This is really difficult for the hardest to reach, ”he told ABS-CBN News on a video call.
(You are in unprofitable areas. The last mile of energy. These are the areas that are really, really hard to get to.)
Marasigan said their different rural electrification strategies have allowed them to power off-grid areas, but it doesn't help keep the country's population growing.
“We have already reached 98% of our rural electrification, and if we take the 2015 census into account, that 2%, just 300,000 (excluding electricity),” he said.
(We have already reached 98% of our rural electrification, and if we factor in the 2015 census, the 2% excluding electricity is just 300,000.)
However, their goals for 2015 rose due to new sites and additional households.
The energy official said that in addition to the challenge of providing energy to islands in an archipelago, they also need to address areas that have been destroyed by disasters and conflicts.
“Ang private sector Hindi Pumapasok because unprofitable, Walang Kikitain,” he admitted, explaining that it is unattractive for distributors to connect a Sitio 10 kilometers away to the grid when only 10 houses need to be connected.
(The private sector doesn't want to go to some places because it's unprofitable and not making a profit.)
Marasigan said that in some cases, renewable energy is the only solution as it doesn't need to be plugged into the grid.
However, there are sustainability concerns.
He said that even if they train people to maintain the system, the trainees use what they learn to find work elsewhere. Also, some communities cannot raise money to replace components or batteries.
Marasigan said this is why the DOE is now using distribution companies to implement renewable energy solutions and charge appropriate fees to maintain the solar systems.
The alternative is what the ICSC is already doing: empower and empower communities to maintain and even expand their solar systems.
Tahup said this is why they only donate Solar TekPaks to communities that are supported by strong organizations. For Magata and Manggahan, these are associations led by tribal leaders.
Power4All donated 3 NIWA solar power systems in response to the ICSC's call to provide humanitarian energy to the communities affected by Typhoon Ulysses. Photo courtesy AC Dimatatac / ICSC
The point of the program, Tahup said, is to teach residents to maintain and make more solar systems, rather than just giving them technology that may not be in untrained hands.
The ICSC's technical officer, Glinly Alvero, who trains the solar scientists, was a typhoon survivor himself.
Alvero was staying with a friend in Tacloban City when Typhoon Yolanda devastated the city. Like many residents, he lost friends in a typhoon believed to be exacerbated by climate change.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said, remembering how he started volunteering for environmental groups after the disaster. Only then did he recognize the importance of renewable energies and how promoting them could help combat climate change.
The emission of greenhouse gases caused by human activities such as the use of dirty energy sources has been linked to climate change. In addition to extreme weather events, climate change has also been linked to drought and sea level rise.
Alvero said helping people build and value renewable energy systems has become his life goal.
He said their focus is now on finding locally available parts for the Solar TekPaks so that communities can easily source parts for repairs or upgrades.
Among the groups that Alvero and the other volunteers helped were residents of Sulu-an Island in Guiuan, eastern Samar. Since the island has already improved its solar system, the residents were able to donate their original Solar TekPak to the Dumagat-Remontado tribe in Rizal.
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Tahup said Sulu-an's success story, in which most households are now using their own solar home systems, is a blueprint for unpowered communities.
After addressing basic needs for lighting and education, ICSC hopes to help Magata and Manggahan use solar energy for a living. This has already been achieved by Sulu-an, which uses solar energy to keep the community's daily fisheries frozen.
ICSC reported how Sulu-an's women's group, Sulong Sulu-an, used solar lights to bake bread and solar-powered speakers to hold Zumba exercises.
To achieve this level of climate resilience, the ICSC taught the Magata and Manggahan tribal leaders to set a fee for those who use the community's charging stations – albeit lower than the private-set fee of P15 per fee.
With the money that the organization has saved, the Sitios can maintain and even upgrade their solar systems in just a few years. And in due course, it can even cover compensation for the solar scientists who are responsible for maintaining the system.
The ICSC believes that with the right tools, training and perspective, sites can finally thrive. Your solar systems not only offer light, but also opportunities for education and livelihood.
Small solar panels can be seen on a house in Sitio Manggahan, Laiban and Tanay Rizal. Some families are familiar with solar energy after receiving donations from other organizations a few years ago. Photo courtesy AC Dimatatac / ICSC
Solar Energy Philippines, Renewable Energy Philippines, Typhoon Ulysses, Laiban Dam, Dumagat-Remontado Tribe, Tanay, Rizal, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, Solar Energy, Climate Change, Renewable Energy, ICSC Renewable Energy