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Keynote Address: 4th EU-Philippines Meeting on Energy

October 7, 2016

Keynote Address of Senator Loren Legarda
4th EU-Philippines Meeting on Energy
7 October 2016 | Makati Shangri-La Hotel

 

Allow me first to congratulate the organizers of the 4th EU-Philippine Meeting on Energy. This meeting could not have come at a better time as our government is currently undertaking a review of the Philippine energy policy.

 

I also welcome the launching of the “Access to Sustainable Energy Programme (ASEP)” which seeks to assist the Philippine Government towards meeting its rural electrification targets through renewable energy and energy efficiency interventions.

 

State of Philippine Energy

 

There are varying accounts on electricity access in the country.

 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 79% of the population have access to electricity[1]; while the World Bank places it at 87.5%[2].

 

Let us drill down these figures further and we will discover that across geographic areas, the most impoverished — both in access to electricity and economic opportunities – is Mindanao.

 

The country’s electrification profile shows that 89% of households in Luzon have power, 79% in the Visayas, and a very low 56% in Mindanao.[3]

 

What are these figures telling us?

 

The poor are particularly disadvantaged when we speak of accessing the most basic necessities, including electricity.  Most of those who have no access to electricity primarily live in the rural areas.  While urban electrification stood at 94%, rural electrification in the country stood at a low of 73%.  According to the DOE, “the remaining 4.4 million unelectrified households are generally located in the rural and remote areas of the country, as well as in the outskirts of Metro Manila and Davao City.”

 

A study done by UNICEF shows that 6.5 million Filipino children or almost 2 out of 10 children are living in homes without electricity.  Again, most of the children were from rural areas.[4]

 

Lack of access to electricity is a fundamental issue that keeps our poor in the bondage of poverty. Education needs electricity. Functioning health clinics and pumps for water and sanitation require electricity.  The economic life of a community necessitates electricity.

 

Access to Electricity and Development

 

Energy drives economic growth and yet 1.1 billion, globally, have no access to electricity. Asia accounts for 615 million.  The Philippines accounts for 21 million people with no access to electricity.[5]

 

Access to electricity correlates with economic development. People who have no access to electricity are consequently deprived of the opportunities that can help improve their welfare.

 

Eleven of the twenty poorest provinces in the Philippines are in Mindanao, including Maguindanao, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato. These are the provinces with some of the lowest household electrification rates in the country.

 

In Maguindanao, only 21.8% of households have access to electricity, and in Sultan Kudarat, only 36%.

 

Growth is difficult to imagine without energy.

 

The Philippine Energy Plan for 2016-2030 outlines the target of 100% household electrification by 2020 and tripling of renewable energy installed capacities by 2030.

 

As Chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, I fully support these targets, but would hasten to add that these electrification goals would need to be aligned with a low-carbon objective in the energy sector.

 

Energy that does not take into consideration the needs of future generations, can only destroy and not build.

 

Energy security and energy access are vital goals, but we should not lose sight of the more compelling goal of ensuring sustainability and resilience as we seek to provide for the basic needs of our people, including electricity.

 

The Philippines is said to be one of the strongest economic performers in the region; but 26 million Filipinos remain poor, with almost half, or a little more than 12 million, living in extreme poverty.  Most of them have no access to electricity.

 

This brings me to the point I made at the onset.  Development, progress and quality of life cannot be the exclusive domain of a few. Progress brings immense opportunities, but unless universal access to electricity is achieved, the prosperity that economic growth aims to deliver will amount to nothing but an empty promise.

 

Not Just Electricity, but Clean and Sustainable Electricity

 

The theme of your meeting, “Electricity for a Better Life,” captures the essence of my message.  Deprivation happens when one is denied access to basic needs, including electricity.  Destruction, however, happens if electricity is provided without regard for its impact on our environment.

 

Clearly, the sustainable development-energy nexus requires an urgent examination of how the country can tap on cleaner forms of energy to provide for the region’s requirements in a sustainable and inclusive manner.

 

It is for this reason that I welcome the ASEP for it offers a definitive pathway to universal access to electricity under a sustainable framework.

 

There are two points I wish to make as the ASEP is pursued:

 

  • First, providing our rural poor with access to electricity is a major challenge, but given technological innovations in energy and the abundance of indigenous energy resources in these areas, achieving universal access to clean energy is within reach. Clean and indigenous energy sources abound in our rural areas. Let us develop these to provide energy access among the poor.

 

  • Second, it is time to walk the talk. We cannot promote a low carbon future, as called for in the Philippine Energy Plan, in isolation from the bigger picture of building a sustainable future.

 

As a Filipino, my resolve on this subject is deep and personal.  The Philippines bears much of the brunt of climate change.  The United Nations ranked our country the fourth in the world among countries hit by the highest number of disasters over the past 20 years, many of which are weather-related disasters.

 

Only the uninformed will reject the link between the planet’s changing climate and extreme weather events.

 

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

 

In the Philippines, earlier estimates indicate that we have some 246,000 megawatts of untapped renewable energy capacity. Failure to develop these capacities would be unforgivable.

 

We need to focus on promoting the growth of the low-carbon economy as a means to create jobs and curb carbon emissions.

 

To further support the country’s low-carbon energy thrust, I introduced a bill that will institutionalize policies on energy efficiency and conservation.

 

Energy efficiency has the greatest potential to reduce the level of energy use, thus minimizing environmental hazards emitted by coal-fired power plants.

 

Conclusion

 

Finally, allow me to offer some insights, which I hope you will consider as you undertake the ASEP.

 

First, while it is important to focus on meeting rural electrification targets by means of renewable energy and energy efficiency, let us not forget to train our sights on the bigger goal — which is to improve the livelihood and living conditions of the poor, particularly those who currently have no access to electricity. As such, it is important that concrete actions that capacitate communities for economic activities are also pursued.

 

Second, let us be sensitive and cognizant of the needs of the communities we want to serve. While it is true that providing access to electricity to these communities will enable them to harness the vast development opportunities that electrification brings, designing solutions would require the cooperation of the community. Do not just provide and deliver the tools to communities, but rather, build with them.

 

Lastly, do not create a mindset that electricity is free. Instead, help create a culture of responsibility among the recipient communities. We are grateful for your assistance, but giving requires that we enable and empower communities to assume responsibilities, not in the future, but beginning the day we start sitting down with them to discuss the help we want to extend to them.

 

Thank you and I wish you success in this programme.***

 

[1] International Energy Agency, Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2015.

[2] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS

[3] 26th EPIRA Implementation Status Report

[4] UNICEF Philippines, How Access to Basic Needs Eludes Poor Children, Policy Brief 2015.

[5] International Energy Agency, Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2015