The Dark They Know Well

For many of these people who do not have electricity, their days are dictated by the rise and fall of the sun. At 4:30 in the morning, when only a dim ray of light can be seen across the horizon, villagers are already up, making their way towards the fields to farm or the coasts to fish. By 4:30 in the afternoon, these breadwinners are already home, having dinner. This is a typical day for many residents of barangays with no access to electricity.

Narciso Palaganas and Leilani Bonilla, with their four kids, Leila, JR, Jomar, and John Paul are residents of Barangay Dulao, in Lagawe, Ifugao. They were one of the families the author interviewed. Dulao is an isolated community located within the river basin of the Magat Hydroelectric Dam. It is ironic that though this source of electricity is so near, having access to electricity is far from being realized.

Fourteen years ago, Narciso and Leilani migrated to Dulao from Quirino in search of a better life. Narciso ended up working as a fisherman, earning P100 a day (assuming he is able to catch and sell two kilos worth of fish).  They spend at least P220 monthly for four liters of diesel fuel. That amount is enough to give them two hours worth of lighting each night for a month.  Unfortunately, they are not one of the more well-off families who could afford to spend P70 per liter on kerosene.

The two hours of lighting is used by the children to study.  Oftentimes, they complain of headaches or eyestrain after reading under the dim light for so long. However, despite this opportunity to learn, they still do poorly in school. Since the rest of their diesel fuel powers the stove used for cooking, the amount of available lighted time is limited. The stove is their most modern appliance, aside from the radio they use to connect with the outside world. It is used mostly to cook rice, which is often paired with coffee or sugar. When there is fish left unsold, that is the only time the family gets to eat the fruit of their parents’ labor. Food takes up 50% of their monthly budget.

For Narciso and his wife, this is not the picture of the better life they wanted. However, thinking of what could have been takes too much time and does them no good. They have four mouths to feed.  All they can afford to worry about is earning enough money to provide for food on the table. They feel no despair despite their situation. Rather, they, together with more than a million other Filipinos have gotten themselves accustomed to this darkness they know well.

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