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The electric dream goes on for Cordillera’s remote sitios
by Delmar Cariño

The task of providing electricity for every sitio in the Cordillera remains far from over but efforts are currently in full swing to get the job done, inspired by a nationwide energization program that seeks to connect to the grid every household in the country in two to three years time.

The capital required is enormous. But under the Aquino government’s Sitio Electrification Program (SEP) and Barangay Line Enhancement Program (BLEP), a P35 billion state subsidy from 2010 to 2015 might do the trick and end years of dependence on wood as source of light for many remote barangays or sitios in particular.

The Cordillera is on the program. But the thrust of energizing the region’s far-flung sitios has proven to be far more difficult compared to the other regions. The region’s inhospitable terrain of rugged mountain slopes and rocky dirt roads alone have made difficult the transport of electric poles, power cables, and equipment.

But electricity must be delivered at all cost. And to come at par with its role of helping improve the lives of the people, electricity must be made available to all households in keeping with the targets under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDG targets did not specifically mention electrification as a quantifiable component of life improvement. However, the benefits electrification brings cannot be denied.

The goal of achieving universal primary education cannot be attained without electricity that should enable the learners to study and conduct laboratory experiments.

The goal of reducing child mortality will also depend on electricity that will cause the refrigeration of vaccines and other medicines essential to child care.

Neither poverty nor hunger will also be reduced if the farmer’s income will not improve since he is denied the use water pumps powered by electricity. He must also be able to access the market prices of the commodities he produces through radio or television to become competitive.

And the advent of information technology, harnessed through mobile phones, desktops, laptops, and tablets, will be useless if there is no electricity to charge their batteries.

Under the SEP, the government seeks to energize 32,441 sitios by 2015. Under the BLEP, the delivery of electricity to 2,341 barangays will be improved for the same period. The P35B to bankroll the SEP and BLEP has earmarked at least P1 million for every sitio to be energized. The subsidy includes a P2,500 package for free house wiring per family.

The BLEP states there must be at least 30 households for every sitio to qualify for energization but the region’s electric cooperatives (ECs) – Benguet Electric Cooperative, Mountain Province Electric Cooperative, Kalinga Apayao Electric Cooperative, Ifugao Electric Cooperative, and the Abra Electric Cooperative – have asked to be exempted from the requirement since more often than not the region’s remote areas have scattered groups of houses numbering less than 30 and far spread from one another but are all found within the same sitio.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, the ECs in the Cordillera have energized 205 out of the 369 sitios they have requested to be funded under the SEP. The energized sitios have benefitted 2,408 households.

Based on the list of ECs in the Cordillera submitted to the National Electrification Administration (NEA) in 2010, the region still has to energize 1,648 sitios which are broken down per EC as follows: Abreco (43), Beneco (561), Ifelco (832), Kaelco (148), and Mopreco (64).

For this year, 328 of the 1,648 sitios still to be energized have been programmed for completion. The rest, or 1,320, sitios will be completed by 2015.

Abreco seeks to complete 38 sitios this year at a cost of P29.06M; Beneco, 118 at P75.75M; Ifelco, 29 at P17.90M; Kaelco, 79 at P109.12M; and Mopreco, 33 at P69M. A total of P300.68M has been allotted for the sitios in the 2014 pipeline. Abreco and Mopreco have been previously granted separate funding for one sitio and 31 sitios, respectively.

The list of sitios the ECs have energized under the SEP and BLEP does not reflect the total number they have already energized before the flagship program on energization was launched. There is no list available as of this writing but the ECs vow that a lot of sitios have been energized before the SEP ends. The sitios were energized out of the ECs’ internally generated funds, grants, loans, and congressional initiatives more popularly known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund.

Rarely will an EC bet on a hundred percent sitio energization program. This is because sitios are relative. They can sprout like mushrooms. Unrecognized as political units in this county, sitios can emerge rapidly as the population grows. The 32,441 sitios across the country may all be energized by 2015 but for sure, there will be other sitios in dire need of power by that time.

The energization of the sitios may have been slow. The number of sitios energized may have been low. By the MDG’s standards, the figures may still be wanting. But let’s face it. The total energization of the sitios anchored on a zero backlog cannot happen overnight. The recent “Once and for all summit” for the SEP and BLEP for Luzon ECs held in Baguio City revealed bidding and construction protocols have caused the bottleneck for the smooth implementation of the SEP and BLEP. The projects must also have to grapple with audit requirements as the funds used are pubic funds.

Among the other concerns raised during the summit are:

The cleansing of the masterlist of the sitios for the SEP and BLEP which has included haciendas, beach resorts, schools, line extensions, villages, resettlement areas, private lands, and other areas not deemed appropriate for government subsidies;

The problems posed by right-of-way, road networks, and peace and order that have been lingering from day one of the program’s inception;

The option to energize remote sitios by off-grid plants;

The determination of sitios that are deemed uninhabited or “unworthy” to energize; and

The harmonization of all Bottom-up Budgeting, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Pamana project requests from LGUs, legislators, and other stakeholders with the masterlist.

But one serious concern common to the ECs is the requirements the LGUs, through their building officials, impose on the households that apply for service connection. The National Electrification Administration has asked the municipal building officials to relax the requirement on the submission of building permits but there are LGUs that insist permits must be first submitted before the Certificate of Final Electrical Inspection (CFEI) will be issued to the applicants. Under the law, the LGUs are the ones to issue the CFEI, which will be the basis of the EC to finally connect the household to the electric lines.

The NEA admits efforts to provide electricity to the sitios will become inutile if the households will be denied connection to the lines due to rigid LGU service connection requirements.
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