Volunteering has always been second nature for the men and women of the country’s biggest electric distribution company — the Manila Electric Company (Meralco). Apart from offering excellent service to their customers, these employees never forget to reach out to their respective communities in whatever way they can. In fact, today, sixty Meralco employees are currently sprucing up public classrooms in two schools in Metro Manila under Hands on Manila’s Servathon.
Meralco employees are aware of their role in building the nation not only through how they serve their communities but also how they are as responsible stewards of the environment. Just recently, Meralco entered an agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under its National Greening Program. So during the onset of this year’s Makabayan Days which are the employee volunteerism days under the Makabayan Volunteerism Program ñ an employee engagement program initiated and organized by One Meralco Foundation, Meralco’s social development arm, planting mangroves and cleaning up the coastal area of the Las Pinas-Paranaque Coastal Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area (LPPCHEA) on the Freedom Islands was immediately put in the agenda.
The most biodiverse site in Manila Bay
The LPPCHEA is a RAMSAR-recognized site, considered of great international importance as a wetland and as the place with the greatest biodiversity in Manila Bay. RAMSAR is the international treaty that provides for the protection and conservation of wetlands such as the LPPCHEA. 82 bird species, most of them migratory, come to Freedom Islands’ 30 hectares. Here, a small but thriving mangrove forest has also been established in a place that was once only reclaimed land.
“This area needs to be protected, not only because of its superior biodiversity, but also because it is the last of its kind in the metropolis,” said Marco Carlos, head of Meralco Safety and Environmental Management office. “The mangrove area is not only a source of food, but also of livelihood. When people make their living from something like eco-tourism, they tend to become environmentalists because they have a personal investment in it. They become more aware and protective of the environment, so conserving this area is a sustainable practice.”
Carlos was part of a group of more than 200 Meralco employees in the area who helped out with the coastal clean-up and in the planting of 4,000 mangrove propagules during the Makabayan Days. Under the National Greening Program, Meralco has committed to plant 8,550 mangrove propagules to help enhance the LPPCHEA’s environment, and to put up signages that will direct more visitors to the site.
LPPCHEA project manager Rey Aguinaldo, who has worked in the area since it was merely a reclaimed site in 2000, explained that Manila Bay is considered by the United Nations’ Partnership for Environmental Management of the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) as a pollution hotspot. The DENR is among the agencies tasked by the Supreme Court to help in the clean-up of Manila Bay, in hopes of restoring it to its original pristine state.
Mangroves, Aguinaldo added, are very significant to the environment as they purify the waste in water, prevent the rapid growth of algae (which chokes other species by using up the oxygen in the water), sink carbon, trap sediment, and serve as a nursery and habitat for various species, including beneficial microorganisms.
ìInternational experts have assessed it to have the potential to become a world-class eco-tourism area.î He also stressed how valuable the area is to both the environment and the economy.
Volunteers to the rescue
Meralco’s initiatives to assist the LPPCHEA are in line with its thrust to help its employees instill the value of being Makabayan. Nestor Divina, head of Meralco Pasig Sector, noted that all ten business sectors of Meralco were represented in the activities, adding that those who volunteered last year, after seeing the pollution and waste in the area last year, were eager to return and help out again. “I believe that you can see many of Meralco’s values in how our volunteers work: makabayan, malasakit para sa bayan, teamwork.”
Added Ronnie Aperocho, head of Meralco South Distribution Services, “Through the Makabayan Volunteerism Program, Meralco gives its employees an avenue to contribute to nation-building. We have always been ready to help, but the program helps us be more strategic. The planting of the mangrove propagules is not for us alone; it’s future generations that will benefit from it.”
“The mandate from our Chairman, Mr. Manuel V. Pangilinan, is to do good while doing well. Our hope is for Meralco employees to develop a heart of service and embrace company values while participating in our Makabayan activities. Because we think that nation-building goes beyond compliance, One Meralco Foundation has been steadily working to provide volunteerism opportunities for the companyís close to 6,000 employees,” concluded Jeff Tarayao, Meralco chief CSR officer and One Meralco Foundation president.
Since makabayan was instituted as one of Meralco’s core corporate values in 2010, the Makabayan Volunteerism Program has been creating opportunities for Meralco Group employees to contribute to the social transformation of communities in their daily lives through meaningful volunteering work. Aside from the coastal clean up and mangrove planting activities in Freedom Islands, a number of Meralco employees also planted trees along the North Luzon Expressway with other volunteers from the MVP Group of Companies, painted pedestrian lanes in various school zones, and participated in community feeding activities with Caritas Manila during this yearís Makabayan Days which commemorate the birthday of Meralco and OMF Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan ñ a social innovator and true nation-builder.