By Marie Cosse
Editor’s Note: As of this writing, Marie was a third-year political sciences student at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Rennes in Brittany, France. She interned for six months with ICSC, doing policy research and advocacy on renewable energy. This is her first blog post for ICSC.
Forty-nine solar home systems have been delivered in the island barangay of Suluan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar earlier this month by the RE-Charge Pilipinas team, in collaboration with Christian Aid. I was one of the lucky members of the ICSC team which was part of the trip.
This breathtaking island is a three-hour boat ride from Guiuan, or around 30 kilometers from the nearest mainland. Due to its location in the Easternmost part of the Philippines, Suluan Island is said to be the first place Ferdinand Magellan first set foot in back in the 15th century. It was also the first area to get hit by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Miraculously, apart from hundreds of beheaded coconut trees, no one got killed among the 1,420 Suluanons. Some might say that the mystic gentle giant Maka-andog, protector of the island, helped save the people. But the Suluanons‘ vast experience and knowledge of the sea, as well as their bravery, allowed them to face and survive the disaster.
Even though a solar empowerment initiative already started in the 1990s in Suluan, it was only in the aftermath of Haiyan that the initiative substantially picked up. Now, the light provided by the fireflies during the night complements that from the solar-powered LED lights.
The silence at night is only broken by the ingenious system set up by the dwellers. Their do-it-yourself system allows them to watch the television via portable DVD players linked to a solar-powered battery and a satellite dish. It lets them watch the news and the famous soap opera Probinsyano.
A fisherman explained that he preferred to use solar energy because it is cost-efficient, it is clean energy, and it makes him accountable to no one. Unlike electric generators, each and every one can tweak their solar systems to suit their purpose.
Critics would argue that solar systems cannot be inclusive and adapted to suit the needs of impoverished areas. Nonetheless, Suluan island offers a remarkable example that it is possible to have access to solar energy even in an isolated fishing community.
According to local legend, Maka-andog left its footprint on a rock facing the Pacific. Whether it is true or not, moving directly from no connection to the electric grid all the way to individual and inclusive solar systems may well be seen as a giant step made by this resilient island community.