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Project TALA: Bringing light to far-flung villages

Inarguably, electrification is crucial to the development of rural areas. Its significance is more pronounced in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs). The lack of which supports the perception that perhaps people in these places are left out by the government.

According to the National Electrification Administration (NEA), approximately 2.3 million Filipino households have no access to electricity as of 2019. The majority of these are in depressed areas, such as GIDAs.

The lack of this basic service from the government, along with other issues, has been taken advantage of by the communist terrorist group (CTG) to recruit supporters.

To address this particular concern, SOCCSKSARGEN Region implemented a project that provides solar-powered energy in villages identified as recipients of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, known as "Institutionalizing the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework."

This effort, which has already energized thousands of households, is called Project TALA.

TESDA XII Regional Director Rafael Abrogar II says that under the leadership of Secretary Suharto "Teng" Mangudadatu, Project TALA will benefit more families in far-flung villages. This, he said, is in accordance with Sec. Mangudadatu's 10-Point Agenda, the first of which is "TESDA sa Barangay."

Project TALA

Project TALA, which stands for "TESDA Alay ay Liwanag at Asenso," is an initiative of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and adopted as a flagship project of the Joint Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (JRTF-ELCAC) in SOCCSKSARGEN Region.

Through Project TALA, TESDA XII and JRTF-ELCAC XII train villagers in photovoltaic system (PV) installation and maintenance. The 36-day training is held in EO 70 target barangays or sitios that are extremely distant from power distribution lines. The majority of these villages are only accessible by hiking, on horseback, by "habal-habal" motorcycle, or by 4-wheel-drive vehicle.  

Each trainee represents a household beneficiary. Incidentally, most of these beneficiaries are indigenous peoples.

After completing the PV system installation and maintenance course, each graduate is provided with a complete PV system kit that they will install in their respective houses, applying the skills they learned from TESDA trainers.

A PV system kit includes a 50-watt solar module, a 12-volt storage battery, two LED lamps, wires, and all other materials needed to energize a house. 

Each trainee also received an allowance of P160 per day of training, as well as a P500 personal protective equipment allowance, a P500 internet allowance, and insurance coverage.

Project TALA trainers stay in the villages for weeks for the course. Also, in an effort to expand project reach, TESDA also trained police and army personnel on the same course to become backup instructors in their respective areas of operation.

Rafael Abrogar II, regional director of TESDA XII, said Project TALA was conceptualized after it was determined that although there is an ongoing sitio electrification program, energizing the EO-70 barangays could take time and be a long process.

In a meeting of the JRTF-ELCAC XII, then Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) 12 Secretary Isidro Lapeña explained, "We need an alternative to address the need for electricity, especially in very remote areas. Through Project TALA, we can fast track the energization of these places."

From Koronadal City, travel to Sitio Blit in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, could take over 5 hours on sunny days. Other beneficiary areas of Project TALA are more challenging.

First Beneficiary: Sitio Blit

Project TALA was first introduced in Sitio Blit, one of the 42 sub-villages of Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, in July 2020. Residents here are Tboli and Manobo indigenous people. The area is so remote that TESDA XII personnel who visited the area for assessment had to walk for hours to reach it. Even with the access road later improved, travel to the area aboard army trucks and four-wheel-drive vehicles from the regional center in Koronadal City could take over 5 hours on sunny days.

A few weeks after the launch, the PV system installation and maintenance training began for 100 individuals. By December of that samyear, the first batch of houses had switched on their solar-powered lights. This new experience prompted more residents to request additional training. By April 2021, the entire Sitio Blit and adjacent Sitio Limdel—involving about 250 households—were energized.

"This is not only a win for the government but also a milestone for the lives of the people in Sitio Blit," Director Abrogar told the Philippine Information Agency during the distribution of PV system kits in April 2021.

Abrogar elaborated that it was the first time in over 70 years that Sitio Blit was lit with some form of electricity. Sitio Blit’s years without electricity could be far longer since one of the oldest permanent residents of the area, 70-year-old Mapako Dudim, revealed that there were people already living in the place even before he was born.

Meanwhile, Rolly Ligal, 43, said that before the installation of the PV system, just like his neighbors, his family had to prepare and eat dinner before sundown, or they would have to burn sacks to be able to see what they were eating. As early as 6:00 p.m., the village is ready to sleep, he added.

Ligal even joked that having solar-powered electricity is favorable to family planning. “Kay walay kuryente sayo mi matulog, dali ra makahimo ug bata. Karon nga may solar na daghan pa mi mahimo, usahay hasta alas diyes. Gamay na lang time maghimo ug bata. Kung kis-a magbantay pud kay hapos man lang mag switch sa kuryente [Without electricity, we are forced to retire to bed early, which is conducive to making babies. But with the solar power, our evening activities are extended even until 10 p.m. This makes our time for making babies shorter. One has also to be careful doing such because it is much easier to switch on the light]," Ligal said.

In Koronadal City, the oldest Project TALA beneficiary is Elizabeth Robles, 77. She lives in Sitio Kadidang of Barangay San Jose, close to South Cotabato's boundary with Columbio municipality in Sultan Kudarat. During the training, she was accompanied by her grandchildren, who later installed the PV system kit for her.

Latest Project Update

During the recent meeting of the JRTF-ELCAC with new CORDS XII Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, TESDA XII Assistant Regional Director Alfredo Panuela Jr., reported that as of August this year, a total of 4,291 households in 33 ELCAC target barangays in South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani provinces have been energized through Project TALA.

Meanwhile, Director Abrogar assured that TESDA XII, under the leadership of Secretary Suharto "Teng" Mangudadatu, whose first item in his 10-point agenda is "TESDA sa Barangay," will sustain Project TALA.

“Next year, we will help more households through Project TALA given an appropriate budget,” Abrogar said.

Apart from Project TALA, TESDA XII is also focused on training residents in ELCAC barangays and indigenous people communities in different income and livelihood skills. Among these is agricultural production with marketing support through another flagship project IPEACE, which stands for Indigenous Peoples Empowered as Agripreneurs toward a Collective End. (DED – PIA SOCCSKSARGEN)

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Harlem Jude Ferolino

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