Despite the challenges, OMF holds on to its commitment to uplift the lives of individuals, families and communities through holistic development programs and by providing assistance in the worst of times.
Sherlyn Alarba and her family were among the hundreds displaced when Typhoon Ondoy (int. Retsina) inundated low-lying areas in Metro Manila in 2009. Traumatised by the experience, they left their community and settled in a new relocation site in the uphills of Rodriguez, Rizal, now called Kasiglahan sa Creekside Association (KACSA).
“When we arrived here, we had nothing. I didn’t have a job, my husband was the only only who earned a living and we didn’t have electricity,” recalled Alarba in Filipino. “My daughter would go to school wearing wrinkled clothes because there was no electricity to power my old flat iron — one of the few appliances that I had managed to keep. At night, she would endure having to study under the dim light of a kerosene lamp or a candle when the kerosene runs out.”
A community in Quezon City also had the same problem. Informal settlers in Taniman, Brgy. Batasan Hills, Quezon City could not be connected to the grid due to the legal impediments hounding them for years. Many of them do not have a choice but resort to schemers who connect them to the power source of Meralco customers living nearby and charge an unreasonable monthly fee for the unauthorised connection.
One of those who fell victim to this scheme was Julieta Belmo. Having a naturally entrepreneurial mindset, she saw a business opportunity in the growing popularity of the internet especially among youngsters in her area. With a minimal capital, she bought several computer units and opened a small internet shop. Without much competition, her new business venture seemed to be paying off but not for long.
“The fees collected from us for electricity were way too high; in fact, much higher than what Meralco customers are charged. But I had to agree to it otherwise I won’t be able to continue doing business,” Belmo shared.
Despite her predicament, she was lucky to at least have the means to pay for the unauthorised electricity connection. Norie Jean Valdez, a resident of Sitio Alters, Melville, Paranaque City, was not as blessed.
Without a stable income and a job, even her own neighbors would not allow her to connect to their electricity supply fearing that she would not be able to pay them regularly.
“Just like everyone else, I badly wanted to have electricity at home but what can I do? I am at the mercy of my neighbors,” she tearfully said.
But not all hope is lost for Valdez and for the hundreds of thousands of poor families living in the dark.
In 2015, One Meralco Foundation’s household electrification program energized 91 communities without power, among them were Sitio Alters, Taniman and KACSA.
Established in 2011, the program assists low income families — including relocates and informal settlers within the Meralco franchise area — in gaining access to electricity by working with the local government and homeowners’ associations to make the initial requirements for electrification well within their reach.
“When we finally had electricity at home, the first thing that came to my mind was to put my own sari-sari store where I could sell cold soft drinks and iced water,” Alarba shared. “This enabled me to help my husband make ends meet.”
“Now that I am a Meralco customer and I am sure that I am paying only for the electricity I had consumed, the difference is clearly translated into my computer shop’s income. The electrification program really helped a lot in keeping my business afloat,” said Belmo.
In the past five years, the program has brought electricity to the homes of 18,997 families providing the benefits of electricity and, potentially, the opportunity to start their own business.