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Cooperatives stretch power lines to remote villages

Brig. Gen. Pedro G. Dumol has a framed letter from President Carter hanging on the wall. Dated June 23, 1979, it congratulates Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos on the connection of the 1 millionth electric meter in rural areas of the country.

Since the, at least some 200,000 houses have been hooked up by cooperative working with the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

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"There is a way of making projects move without going communist," said General Dumol, administrator of the NEA, in an interview.

Next year General Dumol hopes to electrify a half million homes. By then, the NEA system will cover practically all the towns in the nation. by 1985, electricity should be flowing to nearly all villages and, by 1990, says the NEA chief executive, "to all our people." That will be a mojor accomplishment. The first two pilot projects, rural cooperatives modeled after those in the United States, were launched in 1969. Today, about one-third of the nation's 7.5 million households have electricity. About half of these homes get their power from some 116 rural cooperatives; the other half from a major electric utility in the metropolitan area of Manila and another serving the heavily populated island of Cebu.

"We are using the NEA as the main agency for electrification," said General Dumol. "The private utilities won't go into rural areas."

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, General Dumol employs some of his Army training at the NEA. "You actually use military mobilization techniques," he says. "You use the fullest capacity of the country in some respects."

For instance, in 1971 the nation needed only some 2,000 wooden power poles per year outside of Manila. Now it erects some 15,000 per month.

Such rapid growth meant the NEA had to import some poles for some time, acquire barges and tugboats to move poles between the islands, and buy pole tractors.

"After a while, the private sector reacts and provides such facilities, and then you get out of the business," said General Dumol.

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What does electrification mean for farmers and other rural inhabitants?

Imelda R. Marcos, chairman of the NEA board and wife of President Marcos, states: "Electricity has transformed our apathetic and sleepy villages into active, dynamic contributors to the nation's development. Rural electrification has raised the quality of life, fostered industry, improved agricultural production, and in the process slowed down migration to crowded metropolitan centers. It has also provided more education, leisure, and entertainment to the rural family and for the Filipino child, and the future grows as bright as the nearest bulb."

Getting into more detail, General Dumol notes that electricity provides cheaper light than traditional kerosene lamps. Two 50-watt bulbs can be operated five hours a day for half the cost of burning two nonpressurized kerosene lamps four hours per day. Pressurized kerosene lamps are ten time more costly.

Moreover, the electric bulb is cleaner and not a fire hazard. It doesn't foul up a house with black smoke.

Electric lights, he adds, have meant an increase in night classes for adults. Some families in a poor barrio (district) may buy a refrigerator, covering its cost by selling ice cream to children in the area. Another family may buy a television set, charging neighborhood viewers to help cover the cost. Perhaps one family in 20 will share the cost of an electric iron for pressing fancy silk dresses used on festival days only. A tiny spark from the usual charcoal-heated irons could quickly burn a hole in such silk apparel.

Electricity also has encouraged the spread of small-scale industries, such as rattan furniture, abaca place mats, and bags and baskets.

Usually, General Dumol explained, a cooperative is started by stringing a "backbone line" between two towns. This covers about 60 percent of the area's population, with some 30 percent in the town centers and another 30 percent along the main road. Other villages away from the main road are connected later according to a priority list that takes account of the number of homes and the possibility of agricultural uses for power, such as irrigation pumps or rice mills.

The backbone line is installed by contractors. They bring in a few key people and train local youths to help out. The local boys can sleep at home and require no per diem payments.They are then employees of the start hooking up the houses. As the training is fairly simple, the wires are connected only when they are not "live."

"If the power is down once in a while, it reminds the people of how hard life is without electricity," said General Dumol.

Householders usually wire their own houses -- again with the power off. They also generally do their own repairs.

"This is better than nothing," notes General Dumol.

Cooperatives are evaluated on four aspects by the NEA:

1. Technical. How many houses use how many kilowatts? How steady is the power? Are there many brownouts?

2. Institutional. Do the people in the area actuall feel they are owners of the cooperative? This can be measured to some extent by how many attend its meetings, vote in its elections, are prompt in payments, and do not pilfer electricity.

3. Financial. Are the revenues of the co-op adequate to cover the cost of power, the salaries of its staff, and the amortization of loans? Almost the entire original cost of the distribution system is provided through loans from the NEA. Is there surplus cash for expansion of the system?

4. Developmental. The system is expected to encourage economic development of its area through financing small and medium-scale industry, helping set up irrigation systems or rice mills, assisting in setting up community water systems, or aiding local parent-teacher associations in providing electricity to the local schoolhouse.

So far, the NEA has made loans exceeding 2.7 billion pesos ($350 million) to the cooperatives. Government annual funding of the NEA was last year stepped up from 200 million pesos to 500 million. The United States Agency for International Development has provided a total of $86 million, the World Bank $ 60 million, Japan $52 million, West Germany $21.2 million, and France $18 million.

The National Power Corporation provides the cooperatives with most of their power on the seven major islands. Diesel units supplement the power in some areas.

However, because of the nation's energy crisis resulting from high petroleum prices, the cooperatives are under government instruction to seek their own power sources. These will be chiefly mini-hydro generation plants and dendrothermal plants (using wood as fuel). (See accompanying article.)

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