Badeo, Kibungan solar home systems: threshold to unforeseeable change

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The far mountains host the less-accessible villages of Kibungan, including Badeo and Tacadang, where the rocky landscape severely limits the availability of arable land. Nearby Kapangan, from where this picture was taken, and the villages closer to Kibungan Poblacion are less rocky, thus with more arable land and lusher vegetation.

Up and down rocky paths

Five men were walking up the rocky path up a mountain. The lead man, the guide, was understandably the fastest of them, setting a pace that would enable the group to reach the top of the pass before the April sun would climb higher on the horizon.

Already, even as the sun has yet to reach its hottest position in the sky, the walkers were sweating profusely, except perhaps for the guide who was just ambling along as if on a Sunday stroll. The other four behind him were however drenched in sweat, with their shirts wetly clinging to their backs and sweat dripping down their brows, the salt from the sweat irritating their eyes. Nevertheless, they persisted, trying their best to keep the pace set by the guide.

The last in the line of hikers was himself a fast walker, and familiar with the paths they walked. He perhaps chose to take the tail-end position for this reason, as he would then be able to encourage the less able walkers in the middle.

Some of the paths on the way to Badeo offer shaded comfort, while others are along bare rock with the heat of the sun and the heated rocks at midday approximating a heat spa that opens up sweat pores.

The second in the line was very able to keep the pace, never lagging far behind the guide, though he perhaps also had difficulty doing so.

The third in the line was also an able walker, steadily following the leaders. He was aided by a walking stick, one of those lightweight collapsible metallic canes. He was correct in bringing along the cane in the hike, for a cane certainly would have helped the fourth walker. The fourth walker was the slowest of them all, repeatedly pausing to catch his breath every once in a while, and drinking more than his share of the water that the hikers brought along.

The leaders would, every once in a while, stop in a shaded portion of the path to wait for the others. But before the sweat stopped flowing, the group would once again strap their backpacks on and continue the hike. Their pace for the most part prevented them from appreciating the view of the surrounding mountains, mountains that seemed to be made up of rock, mountains whose sides were steep faces that showed interesting formations, mountains that, either bare of vegetation or covered with it, were spectacular sceneries.

The hike was supposed to take five hours, at the pace of the locals. With this group of walkers, they would take seven hours.

The earlier part of the hike was down a much gentler slope, taking the walkers an hour to the bottom, probably some 500 meters lower in elevation than where they started. The long climb up the mountain was much steeper, going up to the top of the pass 500 meters from the valley floor. The climb, due to the steepness of the path, would take them more than two hours before they reached the top.

Yet after reaching the top of the climb, they still had to go down the slope before they would arrive at their destination.

Were they backpacking tourists, or thrill-seeking mountain climbers? Nay, they were not.

Badeo, in Kibungan, is arguably the most remote village in that town, though Takadang, also of that town, holds the same claim. It was in these barangays that the Igorot Global Organization (IGO) gave 20 solar home systems (SHS) so that the people could have simple lighting. The hikers were going to Badeo to see how these solar home systems were faring. Were the SHS still working? How have the people benefited from the project? What changes resulted in their lifestyle after the SHS were installed? Etcetera, etcetera.

While walking down the mountain earlier, the group met two sets of walkers from Badeo. These walkers were carrying two sick persons to be brought to the hospital in Baguio City. The people of Badeo have to carry their sick some 17 kilometers, by their estimation, of uphill and downhill paths before they can reach the road, and so transport their sick to the hospitals, either in the Kibungan town center or in the farther places of Baguio and La Trinidad.

The remoteness of the place was underlined by the spectacle of the village people carrying their sick, and to see two groups in succession was truly sad.

People would ask, why did the people of Badeo build their village so far from the road? Why did they build their homes in so inaccessible a place?

They did not do it intentionally. these villages were there before roads were built. These villages rose in these places because it was in these places that people found some arable land that could support them. These villages rose because it was in these places that earlier people found water, and game.

If colonial road builders happened to build their roads passing through Badeo or Takadang, then the situation will be reversed, so that the it would be the other parts of Kibungan that will be far from the road, and thus remote. But perhaps the rocky terrain in these barangays kept this from happening, so that we are stuck to the present reality that to reach Badeo and Takadang, one has to hike for more than five hours.

And the village people would have to carry their sick the same distance, along the same steep and rocky paths, to reach the hospitals.

From the provincial road linking Kibungan municipality to the rest of the world, the first settlement of Badeo, Kibungan that may be reached is the village of Tableo. Yet one may reach the place only after nearly five hours of rigorous hiking down a mountain to Tawang village in Kapangan, up “Saknong,” a rocky mountain pass, and down the mountain to Tableo.

Tableo has 38 households, an elementary school, and a daycare center. In the school year 2010-2011, there were some 12 pupils attending the school, being taught by an intrepid volunteer teacher. The teacher was solely responsible for teaching the various grades. In the past year, the 12 pupils were distributed in three grade levels, so that the teacher was handling three classes all at once, trying her very best to impart the necessary skills and knowledge that the state educational curriculum required.

It was in Tableo that 3 solar home systems (SHS) were installed in April 2007, 2 in the school and 1 in the Daycare Center. 8 other SHS units were installed in other settlements in Barangay Badeo. 9 similar units were installed in Barangay Tacadang.

The Australia component of the Igorot Global Organization (IGO-Aus) funded the solar energy project, through a scheme being implemented by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). The original plan was for 40 SHS to be provided to Badeo and Tacadang. The plan was hatched in the 6th Igorot International Consultation in Australia in 2006.

The SEP scheme was for the SHS to be provided to private household beneficiaries, with the beneficiaries paying for the SHS units at a subsidized price of P20,000, and with an initial installment of P2,500. However, villagers in Tacadang and Badeo were lukewarm to the idea of paying for the units, even at the subsidized price. Intent to help, the IGO-Aus, with the help of charitable persons, raised the necessary amount so that beneficiaries in Badeo and Tacadang will not have to pay for the SHS units. It was also decided that the SHS will be installed in public structures such as schools, barangay halls, and daycare and health centers.

Also, only 20 SHS units were brought to Kibungan, instead of 40 units. The remaining 20 units were brought to Asipulo in Ifugao where private households were more willing to pay for the units at the subsidized price. The PNOC contractor in charge of the installation of the SHS was expected to properly orient and train the beneficiaries as to the maintenance of the solar units. The contractor was also expected to visit the units at least once a year for two years after installation.

It was in April of this year that IGO-Aus, now called MABIKA Aus, sent a group to Badeo to check on the status of the SHS installed there. The group found that only one of the units installed in Tableo is functional. The two other units were not functioning. The main cause of the malfunction was the battery electrolyte solution drying up. Normal maintenance requires that distilled water be added to the batteries when the solution levels drop. Because the batteries dried up, the zinc and copper plates necessary for the batteries’ function became warped, rendering these useless.

Apparently, while the SHS were installed to benefit the entire Tableo community, no single person was identified to be primarily responsible for maintenance. In addition, the promised visits by the contractor never materialized. At the time of the recent April 2011 visit, the Tableo villagers said that it was the volunteer teacher and the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) who became responsible for the maintenance. Yet the villagers admitted that they were ill-equipped to do it. And so the batteries were destroyed, and 2 of the SHS ceased to function.

The solar panels and the supplied control panels continued to function, however, and an enterprising villager bought a car battery from far-away Baguio that they could charge using the solar unit in the daycare center. After charging, the battery is then brought to their home, where they make use of it for lighting. In a way, then, the SHS continued to function for the very reason it was donated to the community for: rudimentary lighting.

The SHS installed in Kibungan were supplied with 2 fluorescent fixtures for 10-watt tubes, as well as for 2 compact fluorescent lamps and 2 DC outlets. Since these were installed in public buildings, it was expected that their primary use was for public activities.

Well and good, but then its uses became limited. After all, schoolchildren are dismissed when it is still light, and normal daylight makes the lighting fixtures superfluous. The lighting function of the solar units was more helpful to the teachers, who could continue working on their reports and lesson plans after dark.

Of course the SHS were used for other public functions, such as village meetings and social activities, for the people could continue in their activities even after dark. It is noteworthy that in the classroom with the functional battery, a stereo component that could run on DC power may be found. The villagers have been using the stereo component during these public gatherings.

But social gatherings and meetings are few and far between, and while the batteries are expected to be fully charged after each reasonably sunny day, making use of the solar units for these purposes is an under-maximization of their potential.

The people also found another use for the solar units, perhaps with the intention of maximizing these, and that is to make use of the DC outlets to charge cellular phones. Before the solar units were installed, people had to hike the long distance to the road where they could charge their phones in AC outlets, at the cost of P20 per hour. Now, with the DC outlets, they could charge their phones right there in the village, for free.

The villagers admit that owning a cellular phone prior to the coming of the SHS was not practical. With phone charging right at their village, however, more and more of them found the necessity of purchasing these marvels of technology that would enable them to communicate with their relatives and friends in the outside world.

While the people would not admit it, there were some of them, aside from the one already mentioned, who were also charging their own car batteries using the SHS, and so could have electrical lighting in their homes, if only for a few hours at night and in the early morning.

The whole exercise of providing the SHS highlighted the functionality of the system, so that some of the villagers are have acquired their own solar units, belying their initial rejection of the proposal for them to purchase the SHS at a subsidized price. One of these households even has a DC-powered television set. The TV set becomes particularly popular during media events such as the Pacquiao boxing bouts, when the entire community would gather to watch, and the children acting out the punches delivered afterwards.

Perhaps it was the discovery of these many uses of the solar units, and the realization that the solar panels cost so much, that prompted the theft of 2 of the solar panels installed in other parts Badeo. Some of the lighting fixtures in Tableo are also lost, perhaps taken by people with battery-powered lighting systems in their homes.

Thus, while the SHS are still under-maximized and one of three non-functional in Tableo, the project has had a profound impact on the community. It has made the people realize that they could do much more with nighttime lighting, and their means of communication with the outside world has vastly improved.

If only for this, the IGO SEP project in Kibungan could be deemed successful.

Electric-powered predictions in a remote place

The Igorot Global Organization donated 11 solar home systems to Badeo, Kibungan, and another nine SHS to Tacadang, in the same municipality. Aside from these, the Benguet State University-Affiliated Non-Conventional Energy Center (BSU-ANEC) also brought to the same barangays solar charging systems specifically designed so that beneficiary communities could charge batteries for use in their homes.

These solar energy projects have brought rudimentary lighting and DC-powered current to these communities.

Prior to these projects, the people in these places had no electricity, apart from those who went through the trouble of lugging their heavy batteries for charging in the distant central villages of Kibungan. These projects also heralded the acquisition of similar solar home systems by the more affluent households, so that the two remote barangays could now be described as energized, even as many households have yet to benefit from the technology.

Perhaps the most noticeable effect of the coming of electricity, albeit solar-powered, is that the people in these places have developed the need for electricity, whether for lighting, to power their transistor radios, to charge their cellular phones, or to watch DC-powered television sets. Arguably, these are basic needs in other parts of the world, and it is quite wrong to deny the people of Badeo and Tacadang the same amenities. Indeed, the right to information and the need for the same; as is now conveniently made more available through the radio, cellular phones and television; is a development that would sufficiently justify the solar energy projects. The ease of communication made possible by the cellular phones is also another powerful justification, as is the simple lighting systems that enable the people to extend activities into the dark hours at night.

Then again, beyond answering these basic needs, the coming of solar energy has introduced other needs that may mean far-reaching and profound changes in the way of life of these erstwhile simple communities. An example would be the cellular phones that now have become regular implements in several households. The cost of a cellular phone is no laughing matter, and to use these it is necessary to pay the cellular companies, or to buy “load,” that expires after a period of time, necessitating another purchase. As would be expected, the cellular phone users would not limit the use of their phones to essential communication, but would include the less-than-necessary text messages and calls that would increase their consumption of airtime and “load.”

While these phones answer the need and convenience of instant communication, they nevertheless also mean that the people have to spend for something they originally did not.

It is yet unfathomable how the incessant advertisements in radio and television shows affect the people’s thinking. It is however expected that continuing exposure to these advertisements would develop other needs, at least in the people’s perception, that would entail additional expenditures for their fulfillment.

These developments would gain more speed when the villages are fully energized via the national electrical grid, through the Benguet Electric Cooperative. As of the moment, the Beneco has already laid out electrical lines to some villages in Badeo and Tacadang. A month ago, however, the Beneco has yet to energize the lines since the villagers have yet to signify their intention to avail of the utility service.

The reason why the villagers have not yet applied for electrical connections is their perception that it is beyond their means, specially the initial outlay that they have to shell out for the electric meters and wiring in their homes. In a way, they have yet to understand the potential of electrical energy, and the profound change that would result once they get used to it.

We could just imagine when one of the villagers would buy a refrigerator or freezer, and would learn to make the Filipino cold treat “ice candy.” When the children would taste the sweet frozen delight, then they would definitely develop a liking. This would introduce another “need” for frozen treats. Then other treats like ice cream or cold soda drinks would also become part of the people’s fare.

The manifold electronic devices, like radios and stereos, computers, television and DVD players, as well as power tools and everything that runs on electricity, would later on be craved by the people of Tacadang and Badeo. Rightfully so, for these are already regular fare in other parts of the municipality and the country.

Yet the question that begs to be asked is whether the people of these villages have the means to sustain the enjoyment of these amenities, from the small value of “load” to the cost of electricity, from the cost of DVDs to the cost of elaborate home entertainment systems.

The price of electricity and the amenities it brings with it is no small thing, but once it gains a foothold in Badeo and Tacadang, there would be no stopping it.

The people would then be hard put to satisfy the introduced needs. As it is, the economy of the place has hardly changed in the past several decades, owing to its remoteness from the market centers.

The people themselves recognize that, in terms of priority, what they most need is access to the market for their goods. What they most need is a road connecting their place to the rest of the world. They need the road so they could transport their goods, and engage in commerce, and thereby become economically empowered.

Without greater economic empowerment, they would have to continue to rely on the traditional subsistence economy, an economy barely able to provide for their daily needs.

Even without the costs of electricity and electrical amenities, the people of Badeo have had to resort to the planting of “high-value crops” that would be profitable despite the remoteness of the place. This high-value crop just happens to be contraband, so that more than a dozen of the people of the place are now languishing in jail. Yet many choose to plant marijuana still, for it is one product that, even if transported for hours of backbreaking trails, would result in a profitable sale.

Of course electricity would make the transport of this contraband much easier, for then they would discover that the weed may be compacted using electric=powered presses, and then processed into hashish or hashish oil. Electricity would then become truly affordable, and those who engage in the trade would acquire all the amenities they would want.

Yet we know that only a small fraction of the population are actually engaged in the trade. It is unfortunate that, with the entry of electricity, they might be the only ones who might be able to maximize its use.

IF other livelihood opportunities are not made available to the people there.

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