San Carlos City may appear laid back to visitors where getting to point B from point A is often done on pedicabs (bicycles with sidecars) with slightly reclined seats, but each of its more than 130,000 residents knows how hard life can get without a stable source of income.
The women know this better than anyone.
Ma. Theresa Sabanal used to earn a living selling fish. A native of Sipaway Island, 30-year-old Theresa used her meager earnings to pay for her college education because her parents did not earn enough. She stopped going to school upon reaching third year in business management.
“Lisud gyud kayo. Usahay, kulang ra ang akong halin para ibayad sa utang sa tag-iya sa isda (Life was so difficult. Sometimes, I cannot even pay for the fish I got on credit from the fish supplier),” she lamented.
She said that she was happy if she could earn PHP300 a week.
When San Carlos Sun Power, Inc., a subsidiary of Aboitiz Power Corporation, began constructing a 59-MWp solar power plant in Barangay Punao, Theresa decided to try her luck and applied for a job with the project’s contractor.
She became a member of the timekeeping unit when construction began in August 2015. She has been working at the SacaSun solar power plant since and is now part of the group, composed mainly of women, which is tasked with repairing the photovoltaic (PV) modules.
“Maski og init, okay lang. Makabuhi na og pamilya ang ako’ng sweldo (Even if we’re exposed to the sun, we’re okay. Our pay is enough to provide for the needs of the family),” she said. She and her husband has one child who attends daycare.
Suzette Escoreal, Edna Araneta Alindajao and Ma. Nilla Flores agree with Theresa, their team mate in PV module repair unit.
Edna, 41, said that before she got hired by the contractor of the SacaSun solar power plant. Being a barangay health worker was unstable because, at times, their contract would not be renewed by the local government and she had to wait for another six months for a job.
“Dili pud lalim na wala’y trabaho kay naa ko’y tulo ka anak na pakan-on ug paeskuylahon (It’s not easy having to feed and send to school three kids without a job),” she said.
From the time the first sugar refinery was established in San Carlos in early 1900s up to early 2000, sugarcane farming remained the main source of livelihood of about 20 percent of the city’s population. Sugarcane farmers involved in harvesting are paid according to the volume of sugarcane they bring to the sugar central. Some of the farmers earn around PHP1,500 net for two weeks of back-breaking work that involved cutting several hectares of sugarcane and loading the canes on a truck.
It was not surprising then for women like Suzette and Ma. Nilla to want to work overseas just to support their families’ daily needs.
Working next to home
Suzette said she was planning to leave for Manila to apply for an overseas job when she heard that SacaSun was going to construct a solar power plant in her barangay and the project’s contractor was hiring women workers. She decided to stay in the city and got a job, first as a timekeeper.
Ma. Nilla worked in an oil refinery plant in Malaysia for almost two years before she decided to come home and work at SacaSun.
“Lahi ra gyud kun naa ka duol sa imong pamilya (Nothing compares to being able to see your family every day),” said Ma. Nilla.
Suzette said that she is thankful to SacaSun for investing in San Carlos City because it prevented her from leaving her family. “Hinaut magpadayon akong panarbaho diri aron matubag nako ang panginahanglan sa akong pamilya na dili na kinahanglan molarga sa abroad (I hope I will be able to remain in the job so I can provide for my family’s needs without having to work overseas),” she said.
I don’t have to leave home to work. I hope I will be able to remain in the job so I can provide for my family’s needs without having to work overseas.
— Suzette Escorial, SacaSun worker
The SacaSun project sits on a 75-hectare property inside the San Carlos Ecozone in Barangay Punao, San Carlos City in Negros Island.
The project, which began delivering power to the Visayas grid last March 2016, employed more than four thousand workers throughout the construction phase. Approximately 80 percent of the hired workers came from the host community of San Carlos City and about a third or 1,500 of whom were women.
AboitizPower is one of the Philippines’ leading developer and operator of renewable energy power plants. The SacaSun solar power plant in Visayas now adds to the AboitizPower’s Cleanergy portfolio of hydro through its subsidiaries Hedcor and SNAP, and the geothermal facilities of AP Renewables, Inc. in Tiwi and MakBan.