Sunday, August 16, 2009

There is Power at the Top

And it is clean and renewable.

IMG_0024 Sitio Malumpine of Barangay Old Bulatukan is composed of about 65 Manobo households. It is one of the isolated upland communities of Mt. Apo, and is among the 16 barangays of Malasila, North Cotabato. Located some 25 kilometers from Kidapawan City, North Cotabato, the community is composed of Manobos, and their barangay is within the recently recognized 3,500 hectare ancestral land of the Manobo Tribe.

The community is off-grid, and when I visited them last year, theIMG_0015  residents relied on kerosene lamps for lighting and firewood for cooking. The province's electric cooperative, the Cotabato Electric Cooperative (COTELCO) will not be able to extend the grid to this community for the next 10 years at least, due to budget limitations.

IMG_0040 In exchange for funding from Seacology to build a micro-hydro power station and a tree nursery, the Manobo community pledged to protect 300.998 hectares of forest land within their ancestral domain for 30 years. Seacology’s partner in the project, Yamog Renewable Energy Development Group Inc provided the technical expertise and sourced the needed materials and counterpart funding.

I first visited the smallDSC00823 community of Manobos living on the slopes  of Mt. Apo in July 2008. Datu Enoch Gascon (the tribe’s chief), Nonoy Cacayan (Yamog), and Ben Baril (Yamog) took me on a 4-hour hike up the mountain until we got to where the micro-hydro power station was to be built. Leeches and slippery slopes dogged me during the hike, and I realized then how malumpine 031ill-prepared, attire-wise, I was for the hike. Ditching the shorts and rubber shoes for cargo pants and hiking boots this time around, I hoped to manage the hike better.

It took us only two hours to get to the site yesterday, August 15, 2009. The Municipal Government of Malasila came through with its promise tomalumpine 011 construct a road on the periphery of the watershed where the materials for the project may be carried. We hiked through a steep 2-kilometer road that I reckon can be traversed only by bulldozers, donkeys, and some pretty determined mountain climbers like us. The road was meant to run for at least four kilometers, until the earth on a cliff was determined too soft for the bulldozer to risk going any further. But it was enough to halve the journey time, and I got through still pretty dry thankfully.

malumpine 019 Last year, I was asked “What tribe are you from?” I was taken aback, but I answered “Tagalog” after a second or two. Tagalog is my ethnic group, though I’ve never really thought of it that way. Growing up in an urban area has a way of relegating words like ethnicity and tribe to Tarzan or John Wayne movies. This pointed query from Datu Enoch is, to me, an eloquent window to theirmalumpine 034 perception of the world.

The people from this Manobo community, I learned, spoke three dialects: their own Manobo dialect, which they use when talking to each other; Visaya, which they use when with the lowlanders; and Tagalog when they talk to me.

The province of North Cotabato is one of the watershed frontiers of Mindanao, a portion of it being under the Mt. Apo National Park. The whole of Mt. Apo, the tallest malumpine 049 mountain in the Philippines, is already a protected area by virtue of a 1936 edict, but very little enforcement had been done. It has one of the highest land-based biological diversity per unit area in the Philippines, and is home to many threatened and endangered species.

Electricity, 10 kilowatts of it 24 hours a day from the micro-hydro power station, has given these Manobos a renewed respect for their watershed. Tribe elder Charlie malumpine 068 Ili, who served us a humble meal of eel soup and rice spoke animatedly of the brighter prospects ahead – better value for their coffee crop  processed  from an electro-mechanized coffee bean husker and drier, new income from a potential base camp for tourist-hikers to the peak of Mt. Apo, their children’s exposure to malumpine 072modern, erstwhile unthinkable technologies like computers, and many more.

With this Manobo community deriving clean and renewable energy from their watershed, there is little doubt that, at least in the area of Mt. Apo where they hold sway, the forest and everything in it will remain pristine for their next generation.