In developing nations like the Philippines, electricity is vital to sustaining economic progress and human capital development. Many studies suggest a positive correlation between electricity consumption and gross domestic product, setting aside population growth.
The Department of Energy’s energy and economy interaction data from 1990 to 2018¹ show that as the Philippines experienced steady economic growth, energy consumption also showed a similar trend for the more significant part of the period. The study is empirical proof of the importance of electricity as an input in economic activity. It is one of the reasons why the government has made it a priority to energize 100 percent of the Philippines by 2022.
The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the largest private-sector electric distribution company in the country, contributes to the fulfillment of this goal by extending its facilities to small, far-flung communities in its franchise area. And as Meralco’s social development arm, One Meralco Foundation (OMF) complements this effort with its advocacy for household electrification, particularly for low-income families.
The program brings together stakeholders such as Meralco’s business centers and network sectors, local government units (LGU), and the beneficiaries to work out a solution that would make electrification possible and convenient for low-income families. OMF also provides financial support by taking care of a portion of the initial cost of applying for an electricity service, which is usually shouldered by homeowners.
In 2019, 8,091 homes of low-income families were energized through this program, and are now enjoying the benefits of electricity.
Especially in urban settings, electrifying low-income communities is complicated because, in many cases, poverty is only one of the many facets of the problem. The others include land tenure concerns and right-of-way (ROW) issues, which are beyond the control of Meralco and the Foundation.
The collaboration amongst stakeholders, including the government, is necessary in such business unusual situations.
In the case of two (2) communities in Pasig City energized in 2019, Meralco extended additional technical support to expedite the residents’ application process. The LGU solved the ROW issues by allowing Meralco to extend its facilities to the community through a nearby property of a science high school run by the city. OMF, for its part, provided funding for the construction of a common meter/circuit breaker base as assistance to the residents.
The unified efforts of various partners have enabled residents to access electricity after many years.
Our mission in the Foundation has always been more than just providing access to electricity. We go beyond measuring the outputs of our programs and put more value on their outcome and long-term impact.
The same philosophy inspired our school electrification program, which makes technology-aided learning possible in off-grid public schools.
In each school, OMF installs a solar photovoltaic (PV) equipment capable of producing up to three (3) kilowatts of electricity to power classroom lights and fans, and more importantly, modern learning tools.
We believe that students only feel the impact of electricity on the quality of education if used alongside learning technology. Apart from the solar PV systems, OMF, together with donations from Meralco employees, also provides multimedia equipment consisting of a large-format television, a laptop computer, and a printer scanner.
Twenty public schools have benefitted from the program in 2019, providing 4,055 students the means to develop 21st Century skills through the integration of technology in their learning experience. Among them are students of eight island schools in the province of Tawi Tawi, who are now realizing the benefits of electricity.
Electricity and technology go hand in hand. Technology could not exist without electricity, and electricity is futile without technology. By providing young Filipinos access to both, and encouraging them to harness their potential to address critical social, economic, and environmental issues, we are helping them build a sustainable world.
Our energy education program encourages the Filipino youth to understand and appreciate the importance of electricity and to build upon its strengths. We accomplished this using a two-pronged approach: (1) build the capacities of educators to teach energy concepts, and (2) help students develop a 21st Century mindset, learning skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.
Our Energy Education kits, which contain 200 flashcards featuring various energy topics, are now being used by 772,631 learners in 1,180 academic institutions nationwide. These kits aid teachers in including energy topics using the spiral learning model aligned with the new K-12 curriculum. In some cases, teachers use the flashcards to determine the appropriate grade levels for first-time enrollees, and as a diagnostic tool in special education classes.
In a bid to develop more Filipino scientists who can contribute to energy research, the Foundation co-sponsored the National Science and Technology Fair (NSTF). The week-long program brings together hundreds of young scientists from various public and private high schools in the Philippines to showcase their exemplary scientific research and innovation projects.
The Foundation also recognized the outstanding academic performance of 302 dependents of rank-and-file and supervisory employees of Meralco and its subsidiaries through the MVP Academic Achievement Awards (MVP AAA) program. MVPAAA is our sincere way of appreciating the hard work of our peers in Meralco, who have been the Foundation’s strategic partners in bringing about change in our beneficiaries.
OMF promotes the welfare of the youth, helps build resilient communities, aids in the development of grassroots communities, and engages volunteers to take part in its mission to “spread the light” to those who need it the most.
Responding to Disasters
In the last quarter of the year, a series of earthquakes shook Cotabato City and nearby provinces in the island of Mindanao, prompting thousands of families to run for safety in evacuation centers. While the Government and private donors maintained a regular ration of food, there was a demand for potable water containers.
This assessment from the ground gave OMF a better picture of the needs of the survivors, prompting it to recalibrate its response. The Foundation donated 300 units of water containers distributed with the help of soldiers from the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Apart from financial support, the indefatigable desire of Meralco employees to serve beyond the call of duty is a primary driving force in ensuring the success of the Foundation’s activities.
A total of 2,056 Meralco employee-volunteers devoted their time, talent, and treasure to the Foundation’s programs throughout the year.
Among their main contributions is the distribution of 6,212 “Laging Handa” all-weather preparedness kits in 57 public schools in the Meralco franchise area during the back-to-school season. Employees funded the program by raising a total of PhP2.3 million.
Strategic alliances allowed OMF to extend help to communities outside of the Meralco franchise area. When a 5.9-magnitude earthquake in July rocked Batanes, we sent 500 relief packages through the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF). When Typhoon Tisoy (international name: Kammuri) wreaked havoc in the Bicol region in December, we joined hands with other electric cooperatives in expediting the restoration of power services in the affected areas.
Caring for Our Common Home
As a leader in the industry, Meralco continues to find ways to strike a balance among the social, economic, and environmental impacts of its operations, working doubly hard to become an efficient and effective power distributor and, at the same time, a champion of the environment.
In support of Meralco’s sustainability initiatives, the Foundation included environmental sustainability as one of its main pillars. We launched a new program called “One for Trees” (OFT) to restore Philippine forests and watersheds through reforestation.
In 2019, we began pursuing our goal of nurturing at least three million trees in the next six years by planting our first 23,366 trees in 13 conservation sites, with the help of close to 2,000 employee-volunteers, local farmers, and partner institutions.
Addressing the needs of communities through programs that are not only effective but, more importantly, impactful is a gargantuan task. It requires a great deal of human and financial capital to reach last-mile communities, a full understanding of the social problems confronting them, and designing the right interventions that they can sustain for the long haul.
Thankfully, we are not alone. With the guidance and wisdom of our Trustees, the dedication of our hardworking team, the commitment of our partners, the continued support of our donors and volunteers, we continue to fulfill our mission to empower individuals and families and sustain communities.
(This article was originally published in the 2019 One Meralco Foundation Annual Report)