More than 140 families belonging to the Aeta indigenous peoples in Capas, Tarlac now have access to electricity after the ICTSI Foundation, the social responsibility arm of International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.
In partnership with non-profit organization Project Liwanag PH, two communal micro-grid structures were installed at Sitio Malalabatay and Sitio Alunan-Purok 3 in Barangay Sta. Juliana, a remote community in the mountains of Tarlac province, some 109 kilometers north of Manila. Early this year, the Foundation and Project Liwanag had signed a memorandum of agreement to fund the installation of the solar electrification systems.
“Access to power still remains a challenge to many Filipinos living in mountainous regions and far-flung areas, among them our Aeta brothers and sisters. With these solar PV systems, it is our hope that we can improve their lives and make it more convenient,” Christian R. Gonzalez, ICTSI Global Corporate Head and President of ICTSI Foundation, said.
The Aeta tribe, believed to be the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines, had their ancestral domain displaced with the devastating Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991. Modernized Aetas have moved to villages and areas of cleared mountains in central Luzon, many of which have no access to water, sanitation facilities, electricity, roads, and bridges.
Under the supervision of Project Liwanag contractors, all able-bodied community members helped in the setting-up of the communal micro-grid panels. The residents also personally installed the electrical wires from the panels to their homes. Community leaders were likewise taught the upkeep of the solar PV systems.
Judy Balintay, among the beneficiaries of the project, could not believe that she and her children would ever see the day when electricity would reach her tiny village. Living in the mountains, she and her neighbors reside in small, bamboo-thatched houses where the only light source at night were moonlight, firewood and kerosene lamps.
“I cried with joy when light came to our community. I ran back and forth to our house because we could see in the dark, finally,” she said in Filipino. “We could not believe that this day would come when electricity would reach us since we’re living in the mountains. This will definitely help us, most especially our children who are studying.”
The ICTSI Foundation has also implemented programs and projects to improve the lives of the Aetas, who live in the hinterlands of Subic Bay International Terminal, an ICTSI subsidiary.
Under its Water Systems for Aeta Communities Project, the Foundation laid out and constructed water-related infrastructure at Sitio San Martin in Bamban, eliminating the need for residents to walk an hour to the nearest river to fetch water every day. Also in Sta. Juliana in Capas, water filtration systems were given to some 800 families to instantly convert rainwater, water from rivers, and even water mixed with soil into clean and potable water. The project in Bamban was recognized in 2018 as a Highly-Commended Initiative in Social Responsibility by the Hong Kong-based The Asset.
Also through Project Liwanag, the Foundation supported the first-time trip of more than 40 junior and senior high school Aeta students to Manila to deepen their knowledge on Philippine history, and to encourage them to continue studying. ICTSI employee-volunteers likewise took part in planting 13,000 fruit-bearing seedlings at the ancestral domain lands of Aeta Abellen and Aeta Hungey tribes in Capas.