In the late 1980s, armed conflict between government forces and communist rebels turned Barangay Upper Bantawon into a no man's land. The 68 families which comprised the population abandoned their homes. After the conflict, only 27 families went back.
Great odds kept them in poverty distance from the town proper, absence of farm-to-market road and transportation, and lack of livelihood. But this did not dishearten the barangay officials led by Punong Barangay Gorgonio D. Malubay. They thought of something to start with to open the road to progress. They thought of providing electricity to every household.
For most residents, it was impossible. First, they had meager resources. Second, the nearest power line of the Southern Leyte Electric Cooperative was 10 kilometers away. But the barangay officials did not need the power line. First, there was a river that could be tapped to run a turbine. Second, there was a five-year savings in the barangay's 20% economic development fund from the internal revenue allotment. Third, there was enough manpower to do volunteer work. Fourth, a person from the Department of Interior and Local Government was willing to provide technical assistance. Fifth, the municipal government was willing to provide their wiring needs as counterpart.
After several barangay assembly meetings and consultations with residents, and with P200,000 from the barangay's savings, the Upper Bantawon Mini-Hydro Electric Power Plant project was started in May 2002.
A major problem was the delivery of the turbine, generator, and accessories. The access road was bad, and there was no transportation. The bridge connecting the barangay to the access road was in disrepair. The residents pooled their resources materials and labor--to repair the bridge. One month later, the goods for the plant were delivered.
Residents built a 110-meter dike to divert water from the river. A metal structure regulated the flow of water and filtered the floating debris. A rectangular funnel from the dike controlled the flow of water to the turbine. The generator was placed inside a wooden structure, and a pulley made it work to transform hydro energy into electricity.
By December 2002, the 10-KVA turbine generator was fully operational. The project was inaugurated on January 7, 2003 with one added benefit irrigation water for the crops.
At present, all the 27 households in the barangay not only have electricity, they enjoy a 50% increase in their average annual income as a result of new livelihood opportunities generated by the project. For one, they now produce more abaca hemp following acquisition of a motor-driven machine. With electricity, they can work at night. The barangay has a plan to introduce abaca weaving as another livelihood measure.
Cottage industry also improved. More hats and mats are being weaved. Some enterprising souls have introduced karaoke music and video viewing as a source of income.
Average household annual income at present is P72,000, up more than 50% from P35,000 before the project.
The barangay council manages the project. With low maintenance cost, the council collects only P5 per month per household. Those with appliances are charged an additional P5 per month. The collection is saved at the Development Bank of the Philippines.
With electricity, the barangay is now livelier. People have greater hopes than before. A small project like the mini-hydro plant has made a big difference in their lives.