T'boli-Manobo community leapfrogs to renewable energy
The climate crisis requires the overhauling of the world’s energy systems. Poor countries like the Philippines, which have the least responsibility for the crisis but will bear the brunt of its impacts, are nevertheless enjoined if obligated to transform their energy systems and mitigate carbon emissions. This forms part of the concept of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), although the impetus is mounting for poor nations, to survive climate change, to focus their energies on adaptation and loss and damage.
The current model of energy generation and transmission is centralized: It is produced in large power plants and then distributed over a networked grid. There are some drawbacks to this model, according to Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). It can lead to leakage; it overwhelmingly benefits industry and cities and not communities in the surrounding areas; it contributes to environmental degradation.
In March 2022, LRC successfully piloted a project together with the T'boli-Manobo S'daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO) in the village of Ned, South Cotabato that leapfrogged from having no electricity to a micro off-grid (or isolated microgrid) system using photovoltaic technology. Such a model can be adopted for remote areas, such as Ned, by the government's rural electrification program, which completion rate is currently at 91%. LRC believes that tapping renewable energy for this rural electrification program is aligned with a low-carbon development pathway critical for battling the climate crisis.
This development framework is anchored not only in renewable energy but also in the principles of sustainable and ecological use of natural resources, scaling up initiatives for community-level development, supporting food sovereignty, among others. To arrest climate catastrophe, a decarbonized development pathway must be pursued, abandoning both fossil fuels and an environmentally degrading and socially damaging development model. A forthcoming discussion paper from LRC shall expand on this and other discourses to transform the energy sector.
Read our article below on the installation and the community's initial feedback on leapfrogging to renewable energy.
By Jean Marie Ferraris
A cluster of T'boli-Manobo indigenous families live in Datal Bonlagon, Ned Village, South Cotabato. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
“'Te, gusto kamo sang radish (Do you like radish)?” Agustin shouted as I walked back to the house where we were staying.
“Asa man ka magkuha? (Where will you get them?)”
“Sa amoa, (From our garden.)”
“Salamat! Mananghid ka sa imong papa ha? (Thanks! Please ask permission from you father.) It was our second day in Datal Bonglangon. The solar installation team was almost done with their work. Only a few houses were needed to be connected to the central power station. At around 5:30 in the afternoon, the small village with more than 45 houses would finally have light. Some residents brought root crops and avocado for the solar installation team to bring home. Agustin also wanted to give something to the team to show his appreciation. His family was eagerly waiting for the installation to be completed.
The solar panels are transported from General Santos City to the village of Ned. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
Community members help tow the pick-up truck, carrying the solar panels, that has gotten stuck in the muddy terrain of Datal Bonlagon. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
“Maka-study na ko sa gabi-i (I can now study at night),” he said softly with a dimpled smile. His friend, Orlando, agreed with him: “Masanag na amon balay. (We will have light).” Like many indigenous communities, Datal Bonglangon does not have electricity. They used oil lamps before but later shifted to battery-powered flashlights and flashlight lighters because of the high cost of gasoline.
Agustin is eight years old, a Grade 4 pupil of the Danyan Elementary School. The school was named after Datu Victor Danyan, who donated the parcel of land where the school was built. On Dec. 3, 2017, he was killed with his two sons and son-in-law by the military in an alleged encounter. Orlando’s father was also among those who died. He was only five years old when the incident happened. Whenever Orlando sees his father's pictures in their home, they remind him of his father. The two boys can still remember the sound of the guns and bombs. “Grabe hadlok namon. Nagdalagan kami kag nagsakay karo pakadto sa Tulale. (We were so scared. We ran and rode a cart to sitio Tulale.).”
For almost twenty years, Datu Victor Danyan led the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO) in opposing the Dawang coffee plantation of the Consunjis under an Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) awarded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (DENR). In 2016, the permit for IFMA 020 expired, but the DENR allowed the M&S Company to merge it with IFMA 18-2007 even without the consent of TAMASCO.
After the military operations in Datal Bonlangon, which left eight people dead, several TAMASCO members were arrested and charged with murder and other trumped-up cases. One is still languishing in jail until now, while the others are on bail waiting for the resolution of their cases. Adina Ambag’s son was taken by the military and brought to Cotabato City. Adina is the sister of the late TAMASCO chairperson. She went to Manila with other TAMASCO women to seek justice for the killings.
Lemmy Danyan, one of the community volunteers assisting the installation team, said the solar project would now provide them with a sense of security. “Hadlok gid kami maggwa kon gabi-i tungod sa natabo sadtong 2017. Karon na may kuryente, may suga na kada balay, indi na kami mahadlok. (We are afraid to get out of our houses at night because of what happened here in 2017. But now that we have electricity, we feel safe,)” he said, beaming. He would also be able to study well at night like Agustin and Orlando. Lemmy is a second-year college student taking up Business Administration. He hopes to finish college soon so he can help his family and their community. “Mabuligan na namon sila sa pagsulat kag pagbasa. (We will help them read and write.).”
Lemmy’s father, Datu Victor’s elder brother, died when he was still a child. They believe that his illness was caused by so much despair because of the continuing encroachment of the coffee plantation. Even with the issuance of a cease-and-desist order (CDO) by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 2018, M & S Company still operates within the T'boli-Manobo community's ancestral domain.
Datal Bonglangon is one of the five clusters under TAMASCO. The organization chose it as the pilot site of the solar micro-grid that would provide essential lighting to 60 houses, and a standard charging station at their sitio hall where they can charge their cellphones and flashlights. For now, 46 homes will have electricity. Lemmy and the other community volunteers will install future connections.
The solar panels arrive. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
The community assists in setting up the wiring for the solar installation. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
The community prepares materials for a ritual next to the solar powerhouse. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
The solar powerhouse. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
Lights on: The solar installation is successful. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
The extension school would be connected to the micro-grid in the future. Its location is quite far from the houses, and more electrical wiring would be needed. Sir Ariel, the headteacher, promised to provide additional wiring. Once they have electricity, the teachers will be able to let the children watch educational videos.
A future less dark: T'boli-Manobo children pose in front of the camera on the first night that the community has electricity. Credit: EM Taqueban/LRC.
“Lipay ko kay masanag na ang sitio namon kay dugay na ni namo gipaabot. (I’m glad that our sitio is being lighted up. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time),” Ye Adina said with a big smile. But her face was immediately filled with sadness as she spoke softly, “Pero ang ginpaabot ko wala pa man nag-abot. (But more than the solar light, I'm hoping that my son will arrive. He is my light)."
*Sanag means light or brightness in Hiligaynon.
This solar installation project was made possible through a grant to LRC from the Climate Justice and Energy Program of Friends of the Earth International.