Archive for the ‘Power and energy’ category

Winston Churchill and Rural Electrification

August 4, 2012

What connection exists between Winston Churchill and rural electrification in the Philippines?

No, I haven’t discovered some little-known historical connection. I was just struck by this seldom-cited quotation from Churchill, which I have made into an e-poster:

Last July 31, when I dropped by the office of the National Electrification Administration, Administrator Edith Bueno expressed her concern about the spate of attacks on the electric coops and NEA, coming from some party-list representatives, and another government agency.

“They seem to be well-funded,” she said. “The electric coops can’t get their side heard.” And NEA, as a government agency, can’t engage in a tit-for-tat media battle with members of congress.

Ironically, the attacks come just when the work of NEA and the electric coops have caught the favorable attention of President Noynoy Aquino. Last year the NEA-EC partnership delivered the 90-day targets for sitio electrification. And not just delivered; they delivered more than the target numbers, and below budget.

Exceptional performance can have its downside. This year, they have been given even more ambitious targets, with budgets adjusted to what they spent last year.

Great expectations

While waiting for PNoy’s arrival last August 2, I warned the NEA senior officials: “When PNoy gets impressed by an agency’s performance, he will make hirit, and ask you to deliver earlier than the original schedule.”

I based this on the experience of Sec. Procy Alcala and the Department of Agriculture. When he took over the leadership of the DA in July 2010, he promised to achieve rice self-sufficiency by the end of 2013. There were many skeptics, of course, even in the cabinet. But when the DA delivered on its scheduled targets last year despite the destructive typhoons, PNoy was persuaded that the ambitious target is attainable. And soon after, on more than one occasion, he would ask Sec. Alcala: “Could you not achieve it earlier, before the end of 2013?”

After PNoy delivered his message, the NEA officials smiled knowingly at me. Sure enough, PNoy pledged to complete sitio electrification by the end of his term. Then. after praising the performance of NEA, Edith, and the electric coops, he added: “And if possible, they may even finish this by the beginning of 2016.”

What to do about barking dogs?

Churchill’s quote is simple common sense. Stopping to throw stones at every barking dog can prevent us from reaching our destination. Better focus on our goals and tasks, and not dissipate our energy and time answering critics, much less trying to persuade them. Let the dogs bark.

But there is the all-too-human need to answer criticism, especially unfair criticism. Leaving these unanswered also dissipates energy.

Besides not all dogs limit themselves to barking. There are dogs whose bark is followed by their bite.

Electric Dreams, Embattled Dreams

August 2, 2012

In August 2009, NEA (National Electrification Administration) and the electric cooperatives celebrated the 40th anniversary of rural electrification in the Philippines.

Girlie and I wrote Electric Dreams to tell the story of those 40 years. The book was launched during the International Conference on Rural Electrification which was held at the SMX from August 3 to 5.

On the last day of the conference, I remember that we rushed from the SMX to the corner of Magallanes so we could catch the funeral cortege of Cory Aquino.

Memories from that day crossed my mind as I waited at the PTTC  for the arrival of President Noynoy Aquino.

PNoy on sitio electrification

PNoy was invited by NEA and the electric coops to be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of PHILRECA, the association of 119 electric coops. But up to the last minute, some vested interests and political groups hostile to NEA and the electric coops lobbied against Pnoy’s attending the event, arguing that he should not signal his support for NEA and the electric coops.

Imagine their relief when told that PNoy decided to attend. In addition to his presence, the message he delivered was clear and unmistakable. He pledged his administrations commitment to complete the electrification of the remaining 30,000-plus unenergized sitios by 2016. He expressed support for the pending bill that amends the NEA charter, so that electric coops can be shielded from political interference.

Before his speech, he led the ceremonial switch-on of the first 2000-plus sitios that have been energized under his administration. At the end of his speech, he repeated his earlier appreciation of what the NEA-EC partnership did in the last quarter of 2011:

Toward the end of September 2011, he challenged NEA to energize 1,300 sitios in 90 days, with a budget of 1.3 billion pesos or one million pesos per sitio. By the end of December 2011, NEA submitted a documented report – 1,500 sitios energized at the cost of just over 800 million pesos!

Critique of past claims

Consistent with his SONA, his speech included a critique of the GMA administration. He said that its  claimed achievement of having energized all barangays by 2010 was overstated, since it included barangays that had a minimal single electric line to barangay center.

Hence the need for sitio electrification.

The criticism is not without basis. But it should be tempered and understood in perspective. The definition of total electrification is “on an area coverage basis.” This means that the electric line should reach every barangay, but not necessarily every household. This depends on the willingness and capacity of the household to pay for a connection.

In addition to bringing electricity to every barangay, NEA and the ECs have also extended electric lines to many sitios by 2010. In fact, they undertook the task of drawing up their own list of sitios, since the DILG has no record of sitios, only of the 42,000 barangays. The NEA-EC list has 130,000 sitios.

Embattled dreams

In the first year of the PNoy presidency, there was no expressed appreciation and support for rural electrification. In fact, there was no budget allocated to NEA to continue electrification of sitios.

Some high government officials were even quoted as criticizing electric coops, calling them the “weakest link” in the energy sector. There were moves to forcibly convert the service oriented non-stock, non-profit electric coops into stock-for profit cooperatives, making them vulnerable to eventual take-over by corporations.

Into the 10th year of EPIRA, its negative effects were felt most by electric coops. EPIRA promised cheaper power as privatization and deregulated competition bring in more investments in power generation, resulting in more available supply compared to demand. For reasons we cannot go into, this did not happen. There is still not enough supply and prices are even higher than before. This has been most dramatically experienced in Mindanao.

Fortunately, into the second year of the Aquino presidency, both the DOE Secretary and PNoy  appear to have arrived at a better appreciation of the important role of the electric coops and NEA. And to their credit, I have been informed that the annual budget allocated bto rural electrification is much bigger than it has ever been in all previous administrations.

Some battles have been won. But others still have to be fought, with no certain outcomes.

Seven Questions after Reading the SONA

July 25, 2012

Just before midnight, I finally get to read the full text of yesterday’s SONA.

Girlie asks me: “Why are you scribbling notes?” I tell her it’s to help me analyze the structure and main messages of the speech.

I wind up with 7 pages of notes, using the TN-MN method: TN is taking notes – writing the outline and key points. MN is making notes – writing my comments and questions.

Here are seven questions, and comments, after reading and re-reading the SONA.

1.  What messages did PNoy emphasize and highlight?

I have only the Filipino text, 18 pages on my computer, as basis. I wish I had the chance to watch and listen, and catch his ad libs.

If we go by the principle that the main messages of a speech are what is at the beginning and at the end, this is what I picked up:

From his opening greetings to the closing lines, he reprised his mantra: Kayo ang Boss ko.

Humaharap po ako sa inyo bilang mukha ng isang gobyernong kayo ang boss at kayo pa rin ang lakas. Inuulat ko lamang ang mga pagbabagong ginawa ninyong posible.

Hence the inspirational ending: Inuulit ko: posible na ang dating imposible. Humaharap po ako sa inyo ngayon, at sinasabing: hindi ko SONA ito. Kayo ang gumawa nito. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino. Maraming, maraming salamat po.

It’s a message in the spirit of Lao Tzu’s saying about leaders, that after accomplishing a task, the people should say “We did it ourselves.”

This message has very positive resonance. I wonder how it comes across to those whose expectation is different – that leaders should do things for the people.

2.  How did PNoy respond to the pre-SONA commentaries that he should stop blaming the past administration and focus on what he has delivered about his promises?

I don’t want to read too much into the structure of the speech, since the final text of the SONA is partly “negotiated” and is reported as having undergone repeated revisions.

But I think the SONA reflects what has been reported as PNoy’s sensibility and stand. His message is about change that has happened despite formidable “legacy” problems. Hence throughout the speech, there is a running structure of contrast and comparison, of numbers and timeframes.

This is highlighted towards the end by his response to those who call on him “to forgive and forget.”

3.  What programs did he emphasize?

Going by the number of paragraphs and level of details, I’d say health, up to the vision of  “universal health care.” This is closely followed by education, from basic education to technical-vocational education, to higher education.

He discussed these at length after citing economic growth, as indicators of a key concept of the new Philippine Development Plan – inclusive growth. I sense that health and education are given greater emphasis compared to earlier explanations of the CCT as a poverty reduction program.

4. Should we read anything into who of the cabinet secretaries were mentioned by name and who were not?

This is the stuff of juicy political gossip and speculation.

But just for fun, I listed the names of cabinet secretaries as they were mentioned and commended by Pnoy: Sec. Ona of DOH and Sec. Montejo of DOST, Sec. Luistro of DepEd, Sec. Villanueva of TESDA, Sec. Roxas of DOTC, Sec. Singson of DPWH, Sec. Jimenez of DOT, Sec. Alcala of DA, Sec. Almendras of DOE.

Other senior officials mentioned are ARMM OIC Hataman and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales.

These names were mentioned in the context of the programs and achievements cited positively by PNoy.

What should we make of  those officials who were not named even though programs within their sphere of responsibility were also cited positively? To mention some, there are lengthy passages on environment-related issues, but the only name mentioned is an LGU official, not the DENR secretary. The president vows to finish CARP, but does not mention the DAR secretary. We could even ask why CCT is discussed at some length without mentioning the DSWD secretary.

Maybe there is nothing to this, since defense, foreign relations, and economic growth are also discussed at length without mentioning the DND and DFA secretaries or the economic managers.

But then again, being mentioned in the SONA is a major concern of competitive government officials.

5.  What glaring silences and absences caught my attention?

Obviously, even a lengthy hour and a half SONA cannot mention very issue and sector. Still, I am quite disappointed that some “favorite” concerns of mine didn’t get mentioned at all.

The indigenous people and their issues are invisible. A few days before the SONA, I posted in our Aeta Coordination group my hope that IPs would get even a few lines. Sorry.

Since I work as a consultant to the Secretary of Agriculture, I know that the fisheries sector often complain that though “agriculture” includes fisheries, it is usually only the farmers who get mentioned, and not the fisherfolk. There were efforts to have their issues and achievements mentioned. But, sorry.

There was a mention of the OFW in the closing paragraphs, but no substantial discussion of their contribution and their concerns. Again, sorry.

6. Since both Enrile and Belmonte have brought up the issue of charter change, did PNoy have any response in the SONA?

Can we read this passage as a subtle reference?

Ngunit huwag po nating kalimutan ang pinag-ugatan ng Batas Militar: Kinasangkapan ng diktador ang Saligang Batas upang manatili sa kapangyarihan. At hanggang ngayon, tuloy pa rin ang banggaan sa pagitan ng gusto ng sistemang parehas, laban sa mga nagnanais magpatuloy ng panlalamang.

As the late Inday Badiday would say: “Careful…”

7.  Political commentators say that this year’s SONA is an “electoral” SONA, given the coming May 2013 elections and the October 2012 filing of candidacies. What is PNoy’s campaign message? 

Paparating na naman po ang halalan. Kayo po, ang aming mga boss, ang tangi naming susundan. Ang tanong ko sa inyo, “Boss, saan tayo tatahak? Tuloy ba ang biyahe natin sa tuwid na landas, o magmamaniobra ba tayo’t aatras, pabalik sa daan na baluktot at walang patutunguhan?”

The opening salvo can’t be any clearer.

The challenge will be how to handle the “cognitive dissonance” that will ensue as realpolitik determines some choices of who will be projected as the pro-administration candidates.

Wang-wang and the SONA

July 25, 2011

President Noynoy chose the “wang-wang” as an opening and central metaphor in his SONA.

It’s a good choice, since this is an inaugural promise that he has consistently kept: “Walang wang-wang sa ating administrasyon.

As an educator, I especially like his shift from wang-wang on the streets to wang-wang in the mind of those in power.

Naging hudyat at sagisag po ito ng pagbabago, hindi lamang sa kalsada, kundi pati na rin sa kaisipan sa lipunan… Sa matagal na panahon, naging simbolo ng pang-aabuso ang wang-wang…  Ang mga dapat naglilingkod ang siya pang nang-aapi. Ang panlalamang matapos mangakong maglingkod—iyan po ang utak wang-wang.

I am quoting from the published text, since I wasn’t able to listen to the live delivery.

When the SONA started, I was still in the midst of a meeting at the Development Academy of the Philippines about a training program for electric cooperatives. I managed to catch the the tail end of the SONA on my way to the Department of Agriculture for a brief meeting on the food staples self-sufficiency program.

Because of the two meetings, I took a special interest in the SONA passages on energy and agriculture.

The first wang-wang reference to energy is OK with me: Because of greater confidence in government, there are more investors in the energy sector. But the next two references disturb me , not because of what is said, but because of what is left unsaid.

Kapag sinabi nating liwanag ng pagbabago, titiyakin nating may liwanag na tatanglaw sa mga pamayanang dati ay nangangapa sa aandap-andap na gasera, gaya ng ginawa natin sa Barangay San Marcos, sa Bunawan, Agusan del Sur. 

This reference to rural electrification is good, since over 40 years, the partnership of electric cooperatives and the National Electrification Administration (NEA) has succeeded in bringing electricity to practically all the rural barangays.

What is unsaid is that the Department of Energy (DOE) has not recommended a budget for the electrification of sitios. This is consistent with the DOE Secretary’s preferred vision statement. Instead of “Electricity for All” he has settled for “Electricity for More.”

If that were not reason enough for worry, during the DAP meeting, I was shown the draft bill from the DOE for changing the charter of NEA.

The SONA’s statement about this sounds well-intentioned:  Kabilang din po sa ating agenda ang pagpapalakas ng BuCor, ng NBI, ng NEA, at ng PTV 4, upang sa halip na mapag-iwanan ng kaalaman at panahon, mas maayos nilang magagampanan ang kanilang pagbibigay-serbisyo sa publiko.

Who can disagree with moves “to strengthen and modernize?” But the DOE draft bill includes a provision to terminate all NEA employees, though with possibility of re-applying.

After EPIRA was passed, NEA was subjected to a similar termination, but NEA successfully renewed itself and got the highest recognition for public service from the Institute for Solidarity in Asia.

Why a second death?  Is it for a second, presumably better, resurrection?

Or is this connected to another provision in the draft bill that makes it mandatory for all electric cooperatives supervised by NEA to shift, within one year,  from being non-stock non-profit service-oriented cooperatives to profit-oriented corporations?

I can’t help thinking that there is more than one wang-wang involved here, involving both public and private power.

Fortunately,  the SONA passages on agriculture prevent me from descending into a deep funk.

Kahit po sa mga bukirin, may mga nagwawang-wang din. Bago tayo maupo noong 2010, nag-angkat ang bansa ng 2.3 million metric tons ng bigas. 1.3 million metric tons lamang ang kailangan nating angkatin, ngunit pinasobrahan pa nila ito ng isang milyon. Dahil nga sobra-sobra ang inangkat, kinailangan pa nating gumastos muli sa mga bodegang pagtatambakan lang naman ng barko-barkong bigas.

In addition to corruption, there is a deeper impact of this wang-wang: Dahil dito, umiral ang pag-iisip na habambuhay na tayong aangkat ng bigas. Ang akala ng marami, wala na talaga tayong magagawa.

And yet, contrary to this self-doubt, the Philippines has registered an unprecedented 15.6% increase in palay harvest:  At hindi po buwenas lang ang nangyaring pag-angat ng ating rice productivity. Bunga po ito ng matinong pamamalakad: ng paggamit ng maiinam na klase ng binhi, at masusi at epektibong paggastos para sa irigasyon. Nito nga pong nakaraang taon, 11,611 bagong ektarya ng bukirin ang napatubigan natin. Dagdag pa iyan sa halos 212,000 ektarya na nakumpuni o nabigyang muli ng irigasyon matapos ang panahon ng pagkakatiwangwang.

The passage ends in a rousing tone: Ang gusto nating mangyari: Una, hindi tayo aangkat ng hindi kailangan, para lang punan ang bulsa ng mga gustong magsariling-diskarte ng kita sa agrikultura. Ikalawa: Ayaw na nating umasa sa pag-angkat; ang isasaing ni Juan dela Cruz, dito ipupunla, dito aanihin, dito bibilhin.

The call to believe in our capacity for self-reliance is reinforced in other passage of the SONA that talk about innovative solutions developed by Pinoy scientists, engineers, and development workers.

I think that the SONA message is not only against the wang-wang in our minds,  or more precisely, the wang-wang in the minds of those in a position of power (public or private).

Equally important is the message to change the mindset which reinforces the wang-wang in their minds: Walang tiwala sa sarili. Walang paki.

Breaking news: While reflecting on the SONA, I got a text from the secretary of the PUP Board of Regents. The judge has granted the ex-president’s petition for a continuing injunction against my being interim OIC during the search for a new president. Furthermore, the judge’s injunction extends to stopping the search committee from doing its work.

To borrow from Pnoy’s SONA: Naman…

24 Hours

May 11, 2010

Exactly 24 hours ago, Girlie, Ayen, and I cast our vote at the polling center inside Claret School in Quezon City.

Today, 24 hours later, what can I say about the May 10 elections?

Are the elections sufficiently credible?

In the weeks immediately preceding election day, Girlie and I were drawn into the campaign for credible elections. We took seriously the criticisms of IT experts and election watch groups about the flaws in the automated election system, especially the logistical problems. The COMELEC’s cavalier stance did not help, even though one of its members, Rene Sarmiento, is a good person and trusted friend.

Up to the eve of the elections, I shared the fears of those who worried that the combination of system vulnerabilities and the special ops of competing camps would result in less than credible elections.

Well, our worst fears did not happen. There are many reports of long lines, disenfranchised voters, and malfunctioning PCOS. But the COMELEC’s “partial but official” tally of 30 million votes from 80% of the PCOS after 24 hours is impressive.

At today’s noon press conference, Chairman Melo allowed himself to joke that this count is “faster than Garci.” For his sake, I hope the results of the random manual audit do not feed lingering doubts about the integrity of the PCOS transmissions.

Are the national election results as expected?

Days before election day, our expanded household was a microcosm of the electorate.

We had different preferences for president – Noynoy, Erap, Gibo, even Gordon. For vice president, Mar, Binay, and Loren. We had more unity on the senators – we did not want the old names, even if they were predicted to win. We agreed on some new faces, especially Danny Lim and Alex Lacson.

For party list, almost all agreed to support 1 CARE because of my work in rural electrification. But Girlie voted for AMIN because Ayi Hernandez is her “adopted son,” and because AMIN has been unfairly attacked by self-proclaimed progressives. Of course we campaigned for Larraine Sarmiento as QC councilor, though our hopes were not sanguine.

Did Noynoy Aquino’s victory come as a surprise? No, I expected him to win, since his campaign had managed to capture the general sentiments for change, against corruption. What surprised me is the landslide lead. I expected his margin over Erap to be narrower.

What about Binay’s lead over Mar Roxas? This definitely surprised me. When the Binay camp talked about overtaking Loren, it made sense since Loren’s campaign was on the decline. But to catch up with the Mar campaign and to overtake it? I thought it presumptious. As usual, hindsight gives some explanations. My best information is that the Mar Roxas focused too much on Loren and matched her preference for “air war,” did not do enough “ground war,” and was blindsided by the Binay ground campaign which was “below the radar.”

The Senate results are predictable and uninspiring. I don’t recall the original French, but it applies: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Frank Sinatra and the party list elections. Since 2001, I have worked  with the rural electric cooperatives, particularly in the education of member-consumers. This year, they decided to form the 1st Consumer Alliance for Rural Energy (1 CARE) and sought the support of the electric coops and the member-consumers. The “courtship” took a while, since the coops and consumers had not yet gotten over their disappointment with the party list that they had previously supported. I teased them that their theme song should be Frank Sinatra’s “Let Me Try Again.”

Last time I checked the GMA TV count, the party list 1 CARE is number 8 in the winning list.

Understand, then act? Act, then understand?

January 15, 2010

Yesterday at the  workshop of the National Electrification Administration, I was asked to share reflections on their theme for 2010 – “Riding the wave while preserving the legacy,” and also on the idea of “strategic thinking.”

I took off from a sign board I had seen near a river in Zamboanga City: “Activists do not merely complain that the river is dirty. Activists clean up the river.” I had just landed that morning from Zamboanga City and had been driven straight from NAIA 3 to the venue in Tagaytay City.

The message, I told them, reminded me of the “Noah principle.” Some people worry that a flood is coming. Other people warn that a flood is coming. Still others explain why a flood is coming. Noah builds an ark.

The same emphasis on activism is in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have sought to interpret the world. The point is to change it.”

So why spend three full days, just “thinking”?

Well, activists may spend a day to clean up the river of debris, yet need to return a few days later to clean it up again. They decide to mobilize more people to join the clean up. Then they realize that their efforts are better directed at stopping the sources of solid and liquid waste further upstream.

In the bible story, Noah was following orders when he started building an ark. Instead of ridicule, would he not have received resources if there were also people who warned that a flood was coming, and explained why?

And during many  heated activist debates about “What is to be done?” I think that Marx’s famous call to activism could benefit from an ironic reversal: “Activists have sought to change the world. Perhaps they should try to really understand it.”

But there is also a possible riposte from Mao Zedong’s  essay On Practice. He wrote that we can try to understand a pear by holding it, smelling it, analyzing it etc. We understand a pear fully when we eat it.

This morning, a similar question about acting and understanding came up.

I took part in the second planning meeting of the Earth Day Network for this year’s Earth Day celebrations on April 22. At the previous meeting, we had decided on Climate Change as the focus, and took up Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Tony Oposa’s 10 million signatures campaign, but reframed it as a call for “10 million solutions.”

Toward the end of the meeting, someone proposed a formulation whose main part got unanimous approval: Hamon ng Panahon: Climate Change. 10 Milyong Solusyon.

But the next and final line took longer to agree on, and needed a debate and a vote. The initial proposal was Kasama ka ba? I suggested a more direct call, rather than a question: Sama ka na! A flurry of other suggestions followed, emphasizing action. We agreed on Kilos na!

Someone added that we should underline the sense of urgency. We almost settled for Now na! But it was pointed out that the Noynoy campaign had already appropriated that Taglish expression. Eventually we settled on Ngayon na!

After lunch, a small group met to brainstorm further on the communications plan. We agreed that the main content would be a list of actions, big and small: 1001 Ways to Save Mother Earth, eventually pared down to 101 Ways.

Then someone pointed out that Climate Change is not yet really understood by the general public. Should we not start with explaining what it is and how it affects us? Perhaps our list should be along the lines of Did You Know?

That started another discussion. It’s true that there is still so much to explain and learn about climate change. So much, in fact, that our efforts to understand may leave us little time and energy for action.

We eventually agreed on our original focus on a list of actions, big and small.

Anyway, people will ask the reason for the proposed actions, including how they impact on climate change. The list of actions will trigger the explanation.

2010: Between Honesty and Hope

January 1, 2010

The first day of 2010 is ends in a few hours. Time enough to post my first blog for the new year.

Girlie and I have spent the afternoon watching  a series of TED talks, both serious and funny. It’s our private global conference, the first for the year. Through Facebook, we confirmed our attendance at the Ganito Tayo Noon reunion on January 9 at Alex Padilla’s place in Antipolo.

By the time of the reunion, the holiday mood will have given way to the resumption of political campaigning for the May elections.

Should we look to the May elections with hope? The popular expectation is for some form of political change, at least a change of government leaders starting with the presidency. This favors the opposition candidates, especially the Noynoy-Mar team, which has managed to position itself as most opposite to the GMA administration.

But this hope for change is somewhat tempered.  Few would dare underestimate the “capabilities and intentions” of the GMA administration. There are concerns about supposed organizational dynamics that could undermine the momentum of the opposition campaign.

Hope is further tempered by what I have learned from briefings about the automated electoral system that will used for the first time in May. The cogent arguments from Jun Lozada and Gus Lagman give us reason to wonder if the COMELEC is clueless or complicit. Failure of elections need not be consciously intended for it to happen.

Still, hope persists. From the mid-1980s the SWS (and later, Pulse Asia) asks two questions toward the end of the year. 1) This past year, was your life better, the same, or worse? The majority usually answer “the same or worse.” 2) In the coming year, do you expect your life to be better, the same, or worse? The majority usually answer “better.”

Based on this consistent pattern, one analyst has profiled the Filipino public as “optimistic losers.”

At what point will repeated experience trump recurring hope? Is it time to apply Einstein’s aphorism that to do the same thing (or more of the same thing) and expect a different outcome is a definition of insanity?

For most Filipinos the big “E” in 2010 are the elections. Girlie and I wonder why we don’t seem to be as excited about the elections as we used to be. Part of the reason may be the other “Es” in our circle of concern: Education+Energy+Ecology.

Our 2010 calendar is starting to fill up. ELF already has a January date with Synergeia to train instructional managers for basic literacy in Mindanao. We also start a new two-year partnership project on education with Quidan Kaisahan in Negros Occidental. I have been asked to evaluate an organizing and education program in Indonesia in January, and another education program in Negros Occidental in February.

I share the rural electrification movement’s concern about the policy changes of EPIRA, and the implications of the May 2010 election results. Will the government leadership continue the social development mission of rural electrification, or will they want market logic to prevail? We plan to consolidate ECAP sometime in April, and start on the follow-up book to Electric Dreams, about the lessons learned from managing electric coops.

April is the 10th anniversary of the global Earth Day celebration and the 10th anniversary of its annual campaign in the Philippines. We will miss Odette Alacantara’s energy, but her spirit will continue to guide us in our campaign for “10 million solutions” to climate change. 2010 is also the UN year of biodiversity.

Education and ecology some together in our partnership with the Aetas who have gotten their CADT. We hope to start  community nurseries and “rainforestation” in the 15,000 hectare that includes Mt. Pinatubo. Before I step down as chair of the Foundation for Philippine Environment in July, I hope to codify our experience in community-based biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

In the Philippine political calendar, February is the anniversary of EDSA. But for me, the anniversary is that of Inay’s death on February 13. My sister is flying in for our novena of prayers. There will be other deaths from 2009 to remember, especially Susan Fernandez and Odette Alcantara.

Although I do not know any of them personally, the murder victims in Maguindanao expect us to keep alive their call for justice. Closer home, so do the victims of the latest sea tragedy in Mindoro.

I asked Girlie if she had any special goal for 2010. She is looking forward to the coming of Dorothy Friesen this January, since she wants to move up from the basics of Body Talk to a more professional level. Ka Carling is also expecting that Girlie can combine what healing methods she has learned with the indigenous healing methods of the Aetas.

Which brings me to the last thought for the day. In December, Girlie will celebrate her 60th birthday. I have promised her a concert of love songs. She also wants a joint art exhibit and a book of photos with 60 friends.

It’s just the first day of January 2010. But it’s a good time to think of December 2010.

Remembrance of a Christmas Past

December 25, 2009

This year, 2009 is one of the few times our nuclear family of three – Girlie, our daughter Ayen, and myself – are spending Christmas together in Lucena City.

Previously, we would all be in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro with Inay (and my sister Yen who usually flew home from Puerto Rico). Sometimes, Girlie and Ayen would spend Christmas in Lucena, while I spent it with Inay in Naujan.

This year, Inay is not in Naujan for Christmas. She died last February 13. Yen has re-scheduled her annual flight home to 2010, for the death anniversary of Inay.

Ayen usually looks forward to Christmas in Lucena, because it’s a chance to meet up with her many cousins, especially the girls who, like her, are in their teens. Yesterday, they had fun dressing up and making up, for a photo shoot among themselves. The Villariba clan is quite large, with 13 siblings, all but one married; their children add up to more than 30 first cousins, just on the Villariba side.

Quite a contrast to my side of the family. I have only one sister; she is single, and in Puerto Rico. My only son Yeyi is in Singapore, with his wife Minette and their twins Edric and Yohan. But Minette’s parents and siblings are joining them for Christmas.

Still, there are celfones and e-mail, and as Ayen has written,”There is Facebook.”

Face to face is still better. But technology does reduce the feeling of absence and distance. Except for those who have passed on to another dimension.

We had planned to leave for Lucena early morning of December 23, to avoid the traffic. But Girlie and Ayen had to wait for my late morning flight from Mindanao.

The day before, I had been asked by Fr. Silva to join him in a mission of conflict mediation at BUSECO, one of the electric coops in Bukidnon. He doesn’t usually enter this early into a conflict situation, preferring to let the parties sort out their conflict first. In the case of the electric coop in Occidental Mindoro, he asked me to fly with him only at the final stage, to help clinch an agreement.

He must have been hopeful, having talked to the parties involved, that a bit of  final “shuttle diplomacy” would lead to a Christmas agreement. After all, he had prevailed on the electric coop leaders to de-escalate the conflict and even submit in principle to whatever the church leaders would decide on.

No wonder he couldn’t hide his disappointment when the church leaders, instead of accepting the proposed dialogue, insisted on a hardline position against the BUSECO general manager. Fr. Silva’s blood pressure even shot up, and he had to rest for a few hours in the hospital.

In the meantime, the employees and the board of directors of BUSECO were waiting for Fr. Silva, expecting the good news that a dialogue would happen between them and the church leaders. I was sent to report to them the disappointing news. “Tell them the truth about what happened,” Fr. Silva instructed me. “Don’t mince words.”

Looking at their expectant faces, I scrounged my memory for a way to tell them the truth in a way that would not unduly dampen their Christmas spirit.

I told them about the mass I celebrated on the Christmas eve of 1974. I had been arrested December 13, Friday (I should have been superstitious!), and there were over 30 other political prisoners at Camp Olivas in Pampanga, where I was detained. I asked the camp commander if I could celebrate mass for them, since they would be feeling lonely in their cells.

He thought it was a good idea. He even joked that it would be unique: “Both those who are attending mass and the priest saying mass are prisoners!” He asked if the soldiers in the camp could join us, and if they could take pictures.

The mass started well. Prisoners and soldiers sang together the Christmas songs, and recited prayers together.

When the time came to give a short sermon, I expressed to them my unease. “Since Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ – God become human, living among us on this earth – I can’t avoid referring to our situation; some are prisoners, others are guards. But since it is Christmas, I don’t want to add any tension or hostility. Instead, I want to focus on what we can unite on, and whatever peace we can share.”

I don’t really remember what I said afterwards. Somehow, we managed to end the mass with some good will despite the awkward situation.

I don’t remember either what I told the BUSECO assembly. What I can’t  forget is the  look on their faces, and the disappointment that the offer of dialogue was not accepted.

They did manage some smiles when I asked them to remember what they had done to turn around the electric coop from one that gave poor service and was charged with corruption, to one that has been recognized early this year as an outstanding electric cooperative.

The next morning, one of the leaders of the BUSECO member-consumers sent a text message to the embattled general manager: “Let’s not accept that the mediation has failed. Instead, let us look at it as a first effort. We will continue to seek dialogue, and find other ways to pursue peace.”

Education + Energy + Ecology

December 4, 2009

This week I should have been blogging in Brazil. 

Once in 12 years, there is an international conference on adult education, called  CONFINTEA. Most people cant figure out the acronym since it is based on French words. The last one, CONFINTEA V, was held in Hamburg, Germany in 1997. I was there together with other Filipino adult and popular educators, and was looking forward to attend the 2009 CONFINTEA VI in Belem, Brazil.

But the original May schedule was canceled because the Brazilian government did not want to risk a “swine flu” epidemic. 

By the time the new December dates were announced, I had already committed to emcee the November 30 Bantayog ng mga Bayani ceremonies honoring Cory Aquino and five other heroes/martyrs. I had also accepted the invitation of BENECO (Benguet Electric Cooperative) to be the guest speaker at its AGMA (Annual General Membership Assembly). 

So here I am, blogging in Baguio.

In 1997, in Hamburg, my main focus was on education, particularly adult and popular education. I was president of ELF, the Education for Life Foundation. ELF’s main mission was the formation of grassroots community leaders. I didn’t know then that by mid 1998, I would be leaving ELF for three years, to serve in government in the field of technical education.

Twelve years later, ELF is still the primary institutional base of my work in education, which is still focused on grassroots community leaders, with emphasis on indigenous people especially the Aetas. From among the grassroots leaders, we help develop those with aptitude to become grassroots community educators. We have expanded our education work to advocacy for Education for ALL (EFA) as part of E-Net Philippines.

A telephone call from Fr. Silva on December 2001 introduced me to a world I knew little about – rural electrification, electric cooperatives, and energy. By 2009, I learned enough to write about the story of 40 years of rural electrification in the Philippines - Electric Dreams. In addition, I have been asked to serve as national president of ECAP, the Electric Consumers Advocacy of the Philippines.

Another telephone call, from Odette Alcantara, introduced me to still another world. I don’t recall the exact year, but still remember our conversation. She asked me to serve as secretary-general of the Earth Day Network. I demurred: “I do not have credentials of someone involved in environmental issues,” I told her.” I am identified with the struggle for social justice.”

The riposte was vintage Odette: “So, see yourself as an activist for environmental justice.”

That led to our campaign for the implementation of R.A. 9003, the law on ecological solid waste management, the campaign to cleaning up and save our rivers, starting with Sagip Pasig, and the campaign to defend and reforest our watersheds.

Although unplanned, the next logical step was my introduction to “biodiversity conservation.” I still don’t know whose idea it was, four years ago, to nominate and elect me to the board of FPE, the Foundation for Philippine Environment, and later, to be the chairperson. But I am thankful for the learning experience, especially since FPE promotes community-based strategies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Why this trip down memory lane?

Could be the cold Baguio night weather, and my tendency to reminisce as the end of the year approaches. But the immediate trigger is my conversation with Leo of BENECO, about the education of member-consumers, the recent landslides due to the typhoon, and the plans of the electric coop to venture into renewable energy through mini-hydros. Hence education + energy + ecology.

The Copenhagen conference on climate change this December gives additional reasons for bringing education and ecology together at CONFINTEA in Brazil. I hope energy also figures in the conversations.

Priests, Electricity, and Durian: Tagum Revisited

August 28, 2009

It was 40 years ago, in 1969, that I first visited Tagum City. It was not yet a city then, just a provincial capital town with few amenities. Wanting some ice cream for our merienda, I found only one store that carried Magnolia ice cream, and only one flavor. Luckily it was my favorite – Rocky Road.

The road to Tagum was rocky in some spots then, but most of it was well paved. After strong rains however, part of the highway would be flooded and almost impassable. On both sides of the highway from Davao City through Panabo and Carmen to Tagum, I could see stumps of recently cut hardwood trees and coconuts.

I flew in from Manila to Davao City, and was fetched by the Volkswagen Beetle of the Prelature of Tagum. The Maryknoll priests, particularly Fr. Tom Marti of the Social Action Center, had invited me to address a meeting of farmers about social justice and land reform.

That trip to Tagum 40 years ago was my first plane ride and my first trip outside Luzon. Ironically, when I opted to work as chaplain to the farmers of the FFF, I imagined that I would be in remote rural villages, living a “hidden life” like that of Jesus before his public ministry. Instead, I got my first plane ride and even started to be known nationally. It was the spirit of the times. Very few priests were known to work on social justice issues, especially the contentious issue of land reform, and the even more contentious approach of urging farmers to organize and pressure government to deliver on its promised reforms.

From hindsight, Tagum and what it represents was a major milestone in my life journey, that eventually led to another “hidden life” in the revolutionary underground, and in various prisons.

1969 was also when the law on rural electrification was passed, but I knew nothing about it then. After 40 years, rural electrification is the reason for my visit to Tagum. I have been invited by DANECO, the electric coop serving the whole province of Compostela Valley and some towns of Davao del Norte, including Tagum City. I spoke at the assembly of electric consumer leader-advocates, and witnessed the election of the interim officers of the local chapter of ECAP, the Electric Consumers Advocacy of the Philippines.

As soon as I entered the conference hall, DANECO General Manager Allan Laniba introduced me to a priest who he said knew me. “Do you remember me?” Fr. Dioscoro Bucod asked. “We met 40 years ago when you were chaplain of FFF and Khi Rho.” We launched into a rapid and animated exchange of updates on our life and thinking since 1969.

A second priest was introduced to me, Fr. Melvin de la Cuesta. He is the parish priest of Diwalwal, the gold mining site. I didn’t know that Diwalwal (its official name is Diwata) is only a barangay of Monkayo. Its gold production estimated at 2 billion pesos a year has made Monkayo a first class town. The gold trade is also a major reason for Tagum becoming a city.

For Fr. Melvin, Diwalwal’s gold is also associated with death.He estimates that 30,000 people may have died since the gold mines started operating. More than half have died from cave-ins and landslides. But every week, about a dozen are killed, most of them deep in the mines. Not a single killing has been solved.

The  assembly unanimously elected Fr. Melvin as interim president of ECAP. Afterwards, he invited me, Fr. Bucod, and some of the newly elected ECAP officers to a nearby cafe, to brainstorm about organizing and educating the 100,000 member-consumers of DANECO. He said they could easily organize the initial 20,000 I set as target before the end of the year. “It was more exciting during your time of martial law and revolution,” he said. “But this is also challenging, and has the potential to bring about changes.”

After a cup of coffee, he asked us to stay for a few rounds of San Miguel Lite beer. A number of priests passed by, and two of them joined us. They were quite young looking, but said they were 40 years or older. They were curious about my life in the movement and in prison, and how I got laicized. I shared some reflections about my life, and how prison taught me “patient impatience,” but also steered the conversation to the cause of rural electrification, asking them yo get involved.

We agreed on the need to choose the initial leaders carefully, since ECAP has the potential to be a significant force that will attract attention, both welcome and unwelcome, from other political players and interests. Someone pointed out that the interim officers all benefited from some church formation program. Many of them are ex-seminarians; others are leaders of parish organizations and Basic Christian Communities or GKK (the Bisayan acronym for BCC).

Before we broke up, we feasted on fresh durians. It was the eve of Tagum City’s annual “Durian Festival.”

General Dumol once told me that the term “rural electrification” may not be appropriate anymore in many provinces. The service areas of rural electric coops can include cities like Tagum. The  neighboring Panabo City is served by the Davao Light and Power Company. Tagum City with its big and profitable loads is a target for privatization, and a group of businessmen and politicans are bent on this. They need not take over the whole of DANECO’s business. They will leave it with the less attractive rural household customers.

I started writing this blog last night at a hotel in Tagum that had free WiFi. But there was a thunderstorm and  a power outage that cut the internet connection. Earlier in the day,  GM Allan told me that they are “load shedding,” or scheduling brief brown-outs in different areas, because the available power supply has been reduced. Armed rebels blew up a major transmission tower between Bukidnon and Davao, and it has not yet been restored.

So many changes have happened, and not just in Tagum City. When I first came here 40 years ago, I didn’t care for durian at all. Now, I have acquired a taste for durian, and worry that I may eat too much for my age and blood pressure. Then, I didn’t know anything about rural electrification. Now, I am leading a national advocacy movement for it.

But other things remain. Our conversation affirmed our commitment to social justice as an imperative of our shared faith, but applied to new fields, and exploring new approaches. I talked about “Between Honesty and Hope” which I use to frame my struggle for social justice. They could relate to the creative tension of the theme.

Fr. Melvin asked to leave earlier. He still had a two hour drive over rough roads to Diwalwal. A couple of durians were left uneaten. DANECO board member Felix Enriquez stayed with me to help finish the remaining durian, before taking a bus back to Davao City. Since I couldn’t stay on for the Durian Festival, Laarni from the GM’s office promised to get me frozen durian to take home.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,478 other followers