Monday, September 19, 2011
Sharing Electric Dreams with Women of OMECO
While sitting in a meeting of the provincial Multisectoral Electrification Advisory Council or MSEAC held in Buenavista, Sablayan last Saturday, September 17, as guest together with three women employees of Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO), I began to read the pages of a book co-authored by Edicio G. dela Torre, ex-priest, one time leader of the National Democratic Front (NDF), a native of Naujan in Oriental Mindoro, ex-political detainee and former TESDA chair during the Estrada administration. I have known the man since my early years in the (human rights) movement. Our man of the hour was already laicized so I call him “Manong Ed” and every time he addressed me as “Mr. Pamatok” is an affirmation that I am indeed a blogger. Truly, he is one of few former national democrats that I admire and respect most and became an avid follower of his blog called “Between Honesty and Hope”.
The book is called “Electric Dreams” and it has two sections. Its first section deals with de la Torre’s experiences, insights and reflections being an advocate for rural electrification. Generally it provides a look-back on important events of the rural electricity in the land. It also deals with the sweet-bitter "love affair" of the NEA and the ECs. Actually, it is written to commemorate the 40th anniversary of rural electrification in the country. No doubt that “Electric Dreams” is for member-consumers especially to those who are willing to step forward, to those who walk the talk, as leader-advocates for the cause of electric consumer protection just like us members of Serve OMECO Movement or SOM. Manong Ed hit the nail right on its head: “Ordinary consumers do not usually get involved in the affairs of the electric cooperatives (ECs) or consider themselves part of a national rural electrification movement. Their interests are simple – access to reliable power, the lowest possible rates and quick service response to any problem.” Manong Ed is the lead convener of ECAP (Electric Consumers’ Advocacy in the Philippines) where my big boss, Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD is the interim national chair.
On his title of choice, de la Torre explains, “It [Electric Dreams] describes what the dream is all about. But there is an added reason for choosing it, and it is in another line of the song: “We’ll always be together/However far it seems…”
The second section of the book is equally interesting for it talks about struggle of women in the electric field. To me as a student reader of “Mulieres Dignitatem”, it is the first book that I’ve read mentioning women as pioneers and pillars of rural electrification in the country. The section entitled “Iluminadas” (“lumen” in Latin is “light”) is written by Marianita C. Villariba. By the way, “Electric Dreams” was published by Education for Life Foundation (ELF) in 2009. To Villariba, “Iluminadas” tells herstory that made the role of Filipino women more visible and valued.
I gladly shared the outline of the book part to Elsa Bawayan, Mylene Acotina and Marian Gotoy, the three OMECO women employees I am with and jokingly asked, “How about if I write a book on OMECO women employees?”, and they just smiled at me. And my follow up question, “How about womanizers in OMECO?” they all laughed in gusto. I immediately informed them that I’m not serious with it but already sensed what made the question very funny.
Ms. Villariba’s part was divided into 4 sub-parts: Women in Electric Cooperatives; Women in the National Electrification Administration (NEA); and, Women’s Leap into the 21st Century. Among other relevant information on the subject, Ms. Villariba made me aware of women around the world that made exemplary achievements or inventions in the electric domain such as Herta Aytron (1854-1923), Mary Ebgke Pennington (1872-1952), Beulah Louise Henry (1887) and Edith Clarke (1883-1959). “Iluminadas” also featured 13 short stories about women who pushed rural electrification and the cause of electric consumers in their respected provinces in the Philippines from the 70s’ to the 80s’.
The story of the struggle of the women employees of Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) in 1986 brings inspiration. BENECO men and women held a protest action carrying placards and steamers declaring, “BENECO, milking cow of BENECO Board.” A woman labor leader named Myla Salbador led the rally from Magsaysay Road to Session Road. In retrospect Salvador said, “We are protesting against unnecessary expenditures, questionable contracts … activities detrimental to survival of cooperative.” The BENECO women were at the frontlines of the barricades that they set against the military and armed men of Aboitiz Group. The BENECO employees are against privatization attempts by the said corporation that time.
In “Electric Dreams” Manong Ed is very hopeful that the struggle for electricity and electrification can be an open door to other dimensions for he wrote, “There is also possibility that as our member-consumers become more active and aware, their experience in participating in the processes of the EC may inspire and enable them to apply what they have learned to their role as active citizens …. Is that too much to hope for? That can be part of the future that is bigger, better than our past.” And that is the reason why I did not turn down the invitation of Ms. Corazon Agustin, OMECO’s membership services division (MSD) to attend the MSEAC meeting. If I may add, half of the provincial MSEAC participants are women. They all have potentials.
In the book twice quoted these words from Clay Shirky, “Revolution doesn’t happen when a society adopts a new technology, it happens when society adopts new behavior.” Women and men of Occidental Mindoro should always be “together in electric dreams” more than their sweet embrace in the darkest hour of power outage….
(Photo from file of Malu Sarmiento and Kristine Cajilig, also women of OMECO handling the employees cooperative)