by Anton Onato

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written by ICSC Communications Officer Anton Onato, based on interviews conducted by ICSC Innovations Officer Glinly Alvero among participants of the Solar Scholars training in Labo, Camarines Norte on June 27-28. The event was organized by ICSC, Synergy Pilipinas, Labo Progressive Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and the local government of Labo, Camarines Norte.

In the eyes of John Isuella from the Labo Progressive Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LPMPC), more than its cost-effectiveness, solar power becomes a treasured lifeline in times of crisis. 

Nestled within a region plagued by frequent typhoons, John also believes that renewable energy and community leadership emerge as invaluable assets, embodying resilience and hope for communities when it is most needed.

Labo, a first-class municipality in Camarines Norte, part of the Bicol region, is embracing the vision of a resilient and sustainable future: John, along with community members and local leaders from Labo, joined the recent Solar Scholars training organized by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC)’s RE-Charge Pilipinas, Synergy Pilipinas, LPMPC, and the local government of Labo, Camarines Norte. As Solar Scholars, they are equipped with skills to put together and maintain portable solar-powered devices called TekPaks, which can be utilized for lighting and the powering of basic communication and medical equipment during emergencies. 

Masaya ako na ibahagi ang mga natutunan ko noong umattend ako sa Solar Scholars training last year sa aking mga kasama sa kooperatiba. [I am happy to share the valuable insights I learned from the Solar Scholars training with my fellow cooperative members,],” John said.

Following three Solar Scholars sessions in the Bicol region since 2021, forty-one participants – including barangay chairs, officers, and staff from 25 of Labo’s barangays – gathered alongside four representatives from the Labo Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) and two officers from LPMPC for the two-day training last June 27 to 28, 2023. Discussions began with online lectures, presentations, and interactive workshops on the first day, which was led by ICSC’s Community Resilience Director Arturo Tahup and MDRRMO Labo Research and Planning Officer Mel del Rosario. The second day was more hands-on, as ICSC Innovations Officer Glinly Alvero, along with Solar Scholars John Isuela and Rey Ulyssess Dimaano, facilitated the TekPak Assembly Workshop. 

This is the first time that local Solar Scholars serve as the main facilitators in the assembly, a clear milestone embodying what the Solar Scholars program is about – empowering locals to integrate renewable energy in disaster risk reduction and community development and in turn, paying forward these skills to more people and communities in the frontlines of the climate crisis.  

“The lesson is clear and simple. Trust local actors and partners for they have the capacity to adopt, carry forward and sustain ICSC’s Solar Scholars Program in their own communities. Knowledge and skills transfer is not just about the transfer of information but about passing on experience, best practices and learning to key local actors in frontline communities that stand to gain from strengthening the adoption of renewable energy for DRR and sustainable development, and fast-tracking the just energy transition,” said Tahup. 

The training aimed to raise awareness among barangay officials and local leaders in Labo about how solar power and renewable energy are crucial investments and assets during emergencies and power outages. Through the Solar Scholars program, local leaders are encouraged and capacitated to integrate renewable energy into their Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) plans and annual investment strategies.

MDRRMO Officer Mel del Rosario, one of the trainers and an alumnus of the Solar Scholars program from last year, envisions that each of the 52 barangays comprising Labo would have at least two solar TekPaks under their care. 

Although del Rosario acknowledged that the process of assembling a TekPak can be costly, he assured the attendees that there are solutions the local government will put in place to overcome this challenge. These solutions include covering the expenses for the necessary training, and providing venues free of charge for conducting the training sessions.

Sa updating ng three-year developmental plan ng bawat barangay, sisiguraduhin po natin na itong Solar TekPak ay kasama sa inyong plano. Malaki ang maitutulong nitong Solar TekPak sa panahon ng bagyo at iba pang emergencies [In updating the three-year  development plans of each barangay, we strongly encourage you to incorporate the Solar TekPaks. These Solar TekPaks will be good investments for the barangays during times of crisis and emergencies,” del Rosario urged barangay representatives].

Labo Councilor and incumbent Chairman of Public Safety Rey Kenneth Oning affirmed his commitment to the Solar Scholars program and declared his support for initiatives on solar energy. “Alam naman po natin na importante sa mga evacuation centers ay mayroon po tayong mga ilaw…. Bagaman ang ibang barangay ay may kakayahan nang bumili ng generator sets, malaking bagay pa rin na galing sa solar power iyong pagpapa-ilaw sa ating mga evacuation centers, barangay hall, upang sagayon ay makapag-trabaho nang mas maayos iyong mga kinakailangang mag-trabaho [We know that it is important for evacuation centers to have a regular supply of power. While some barangays can afford to buy generator sets, it would be more advantageous to have solar power as the primary source of electricity. This would not only provide electricity to evacuation centers but also ensure the uninterrupted functioning of the barangay hall on a daily basis],” Oning said. 

As part of their commitment to shifting to renewable energy sources, the local government of Labo is planning to organize a larger Solar Scholars training next year. They expect representatives from all barangays to participate.