[Note: This post is in three parts. The second and third parts are more personal in nature but the first part will be better contextualized in the second part while Part 3 will be useful for those who want to travel to Laguna and Rizal on a weekend. (In Part 2, you may also be interested to find out how I survived an emergency landing while riding a helicopter!)]
Part 1: Asia Clean Energy Forum 2016
Speakers at the Knowledge Networking event of the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2016 [Image courtesy of ACEF 2016 Organizers]
I have attended the Asia Clean Energy Forum
(6-10 June 2016) so the almost-impromptu weekend road trip (to Laguna and Rizal) was a perfect way of closing the week. [To know more about ACEF, please visit http://www.asiacleanenergyforum.org/]
As many green energy advocates in the Philippines already know, Alternergy Wind One Corporation has recently built a 54 MW 27-tower wind farm in Pililla, Rizal Province. It was inaugurated in January 19 of this year although the commercial operation began in June 2015 (Saulon, 2016; Velasco, 2016). The technology supplier for the 125-meter tall towers is Spanish firm, GAMESA. (I will share later why I and my husband ended up in Rizal last weekend – particularly for those who are interested to embark a similar road trip).
This year’s Asia Clean Energy Forum, held at the Asian Development Bank, was attended by about 1,500 delegates. I had the privilege to be part of the Knowledge Networking (KN) event on the 1st day – where I was able to share a dream project (“Project: SKY BIKE LANES”), which envisions to build integrated elevated bicycle lanes (with solar energy system) in Metro Manila. As in any infrastructural intervention, it is always necessary to conduct a feasibility study so I am hopeful that through my participation in ACEF 2016, I was able to create the needed “ripples”, which will hopefully lead to supporters and fellow dream-pursuers who can finance the study.
Among other things, the study will calculate expected reduction in motorized traffic volume and GHG emissions as well as health and economic impacts that will hopefully be realized should the sky bike lanes are built. (You may visit https://projectskybikelanes.wordpress.com for further information.)
The KN event was very engaging and interesting –it is not in the usual lecture-type format so it offered more chances for one-on-one interaction. It used a format similar to “speed dating”, where the participants are instructed to go around the room, “pick” resource speakers (with their different topics), stay with their chosen speaker for 10 minutes, and then move on to the next speaker. Since the session lasted for one and a half hours, I assume that I was able to meet and talk to about 60 delegates. (There were 8 chairs for each table/topic.) Moreover, this session ensured that almost everyone in the room will have a good chance of sharing his/her thoughts, albeit quickly, because smaller groups tend to allow more democratic and active participation.
Through this blog, I would like to send my deepest thanks for the organizers including the ADB, US Agency of International Development (USAID), Korea Energy Agency, and World Resources Institute. I also feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to meet the forum’s co-chair, Peter du Pont (USAID’s Climate Change Team Lead and Regional Development Mission Asia) and other renowned clean energy and climate change thought leaders such as Ralph Sims of Massey University, New Zealand and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility. It was especially meaningful for me because Professor Sims joined my KN table and that he is a passionate biker! (I asked him to promise me that he will bike on the proposed sky bike lanes, if and when these are finally here!)
I have always been a believer of renewable energies, writing about it as early as 2001, when I was assigned as a consultant for the Philippine Climate Change Mitigation project of the Department of Energy (DoE), with support from the US Agency of International Development. One of the outputs of this project is the Guidebook for Developing Sustainable Rural Renewable Energy Services (available at http://www2.doe.gov.ph/Downloads/nre20guidebook.pdf).
In 2004, while I was a consultant of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), I was invited to the International Conference on Renewable Energies in Germany. As far as I know, this was the first biggest international event on renewable energies. This year was a very memorable time for me because it was also then when the first-ever wind farm in the Philippines, the Bangui project (in Ilocos Norte), held its groundbreaking ceremony. Since I was among the few close-in-aides of the DENR Secretary back then, I was assigned to accompany her and the director of the Environmental Management Bureau.
Part 2: Of wind farms and emergency landings (and why angels must really exist)!
Now this is where it becomes more interesting. The Pililla Wind Farm is somehow “connected” to my personal history. It is almost like coming to a full circle because I also found out today that Alternergy, the company that built the Pililla Wind Farm, is headed by Vince Perez. In 2004, Sec Vince (as what we—the aides of the cabinet secretaries–often call him) was the DoE Secretary so he was among the invited guests in the groundbreaking ceremony in Bangui. To save on travel time, some of the government officials who attended the Bangui ceremony needed to take helicopters while another group took a government-chartered plane. The tree of us from DENR (the Secretary, the EMB director, and I), took a helicopter. It was excruciatingly hot that day but the ceremony went well and everyone was in high spirits.
Unfortunately, on the way back to Manila, our chopper experienced a serious technical problem. The battery lost power and since the engine has no more power to fly, we had to do an emergency landing via autorotation (similar to “gliding” in layman’s term). For ordinary mortals like me, it was a very scary experience although it was also the first time in my life that I faced the thought of dying with a very peaceful heart. In fact, I remember praying in my mind with words like, “Oh dear Lord, please…not on a house with people!” [Since you are still reading this, it means that I survived the emergency landing!]
Anyway, before I continue, let me comfort those who will be riding a helicopter soon: “Helicopters are designed specifically to allow pilots to have a reasonable chance of landing them safely in the case where the engine stops working during flight, often with no damage at all. They accomplish this via autorotation of the main rotor blades” (Hiskey, 2015). Therefore, I am a living proof that this autorotation mechanism is definitely crucial. According to Hiskey (2015), the tricky part in this emergency landing is ensuring that the rear of the helicopter will not hit the ground first (you can just imagine what will happen if it does).
To continue – I was normally awake during those chopper rides (it was almost like an unwritten rule) and, in fact, in one of our previous rides, the pilot would give me basic instructions on what to do in cases when either of the pilots (God forbid!) will have emergency situation (e.g., heart attack). Of course, I was not expected to fly the chopper myself but it was somehow ‘comforting’ that the pilots covered all “what if’s”, understanding that I would be flying with them often because of my job.
On the fateful day, when our chopper lost power, the pilot immediately talked to me over the sound system—through my headset–and explained the whole situation. I was instructed to wake the Secretary up–I cannot remember if the EMB director was also taking a quick nap during the flight–and ensure that we were all securely fastened to our seats. If you did not believe in angels, this is a good time to start believing in one.
At the most crucial moments, maybe seconds before we landed, the pilots found a perfect spot where to land—and it was definitely not a house nor a field with corn plants and people! That time of the year was harvest season for corn farmers of Ilocos region so a quick look below revealed a huge expanse of corn fields with farmers scattered all over. The pilots must have been praying hard too because just in the nick of time, they found a perfect spot—an almost spotlessly clean square patch of land, just big enough for a chopper and where the corn plants had already been uprooted. It was like God and all His angels prepared this empty patch in the middle of corn fields just for our chopper’s landing! It was very surreal.
I can imagine that it was also surreal for all the corn farmers who might have seen this ‘bird’ slowly descending from afar onto…their fields! Soon enough, they were all running to us, shaken but exhilaratingly happy! We told them our story. One of them fetched a barangay official, who kindly offered help. It turns out that the pilots (Air Force pilots, mind you) are very thorough and well trained and they only needed to be provided with two truck batteries, which can re-charge the chopper’s battery. (Yes, I also discovered that time that it is possible to charge a chopper’s battery from the batteries of trucks.)
However, there was a catch. They asked us (the three passengers) if we were ok with that solution because that kind of charging only guarantees ‘basic’ flying and one take-off and one landing. That means, the chopper will also not be able to run other navigational aids (and if I remember correctly, even the air-conditioning unit).
I first asked the Secretary and she asked me back the same question so we all ended up somehow asking one another with the same question and then finally deciding in the affirmative. Yes, we will still ride this chopper, we told the pilots. I don’t know why my co-passengers agreed but my key reason is that I have faith in our pilots (who must have been ‘powered’ by immense talents that only God can give). One thing I remember about those crucial minutes from the moment the pilot told me what was happening to the few minutes after we landed safely was sending a quick SMS to about three persons and one of them was…Sec Vince!
I think that the context of my message was, “We just survived an emergency landing, and taking the same chopper – please promise that you will continue building wind farms whatever happens!”, or something as idiotic as that one. He must have thought I had gone crazy but after checking on us and offering to work on finding a chopper to fetch us (instead of the same chopper with the recharged battery!), he sent me an assuring YES to the wind farm request. Therefore, you can imagine the joyful surprise that I had felt when I realized that Sec Vince is the President and CEO of Alternergy! He is keeping his promise! (I am thinking now that I should have made a screenshot of those text messages but realized that the phones back then didn’t have such a capability yet!)
I wish I had kept the flight manifest also so that I can thank our excellent pilots again! They had been very calm, professional, and focused all throughout those challenging moments. The memories still make me feel a little giddy but my gratitude is more empowering. Looking back, I also think that my co-passengers were a little shaken but strangely, perhaps, all of us had been more calm than panicked. It may have helped a lot that our pilots were totally in control of the aircraft and exuded much confidence.
It was big lesson in emergency situation: being scared is normal but keeping a part of our minds focused will surely save our lives! In our situation up there, going into a panic will not help at all and I guess everyone realized that. We were all quiet so I assume that the silence allowed the pilots to concentrate on whatever they needed to do rather than waste time and energies comforting panicked passengers. When the pilots told us to brace ourselves for a possibly ‘hard’ landing, we were all calm. And amazingly, the landing was not so bad. It was as if an imagined “air bubble” cushioned our chopper as it glided–remember, there was no more power so the chopper had to glide naturally–and landed.
Indeed, the winds brought me in ACEF; the winds that helped us land the chopper safely and the winds of those rotating blades in Pililla are the same winds that will bring our dreams to their fruition.
Claim your dreams!
[For a copy of my post, Solar energy for Filipino Households: Is it viable?, please go to this link. http://meilbox.net/solar-energy-for-filipino-households-is-it-viable/]
Part 3: Laguna and Rizal provinces – a fusion of culture, arts, and heritage…and some science!
Despite the very busy week, I did my best to catch the last hour of this semester’s closing ceremony of UP Open University’s non-formal education program last Saturday (June 11). Since we were traveling down south anyway, my husband (JR) and I decided to take this rare chance of going on a road trip. (For those who are not familiar with UP’s distance education system, the OU is part of the UP system, with headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna, near the International Rice Research Institute.) I even sent a quick email to Professor Sims (mentioned earlier), inviting him to the impromptu trip. Unfortunately, he was flying out of Manila that morning.
The road trip was mostly unplanned so we didn’t have time to check the internet for travel notes or even make reservations. Since it was an spontaneous trip, we relied mostly on the very helpful text messages from our good friend, Jay, as we were leaving UPOU. [She and her husband, Ned, are “smitten” with Laguna and after the road trip, JR and I understood why and became equally smitten.] We decided that instead of going back to Manila via SLEX, we thought it is better to go further north of Laguna and use Manila East Road so we can visit Rizal province, where the Pililla Wind Farm is located.
The map below shows the route that JR and I took:
- Laguna and Rizal “Loop”. The blue stars mark the places where we stopped. [Map courtesy of Google]
Here is a quick rundown of places we visited and things we did (I had numbered the events/places so that you can refer to the map above as you go along):
1-2. STARTING POINT (Home sweet home). From Quezon City, we proceeded to UP Open University (Los Baños, Laguna) through SLEX, stopping by somewhere in Santa Rosa for a quick drink.
3. VICTORIA, Laguna. After attending the closing ceremonies of the Continuing Education Program of UPOU (with hubby patiently waiting), we proceeded north, stopping by briefly in Victoria to buy the town’s famous delicacies—salted eggs and balut (a Filipino delicacy, which is an 18-day-old fertilized duck egg*). I am not a fan of balut but hubby can eat it so Victoria had been agreed upon as a required stop. (Victoria is known as the “Duck Raising Center of the Philippines.”) We were a little disappointed because the main branch of “Mr. Duck” or also known as “Itlog ni Kuya” (Jay and Ned’s favorite, too!) has finished its stock for the day, announcing it on the counter with, “Ubos na po ang itlog, bukas ulit!” (may be loosely translated as “Eggs are sold out, come back tomorrow!”) This made us laugh amid the frustration.
Not wanting to be defeated, we tried the store next door. Unfortunately, when we tried the goodies at home, the salted eggs and balut did not come as close to the ones from “Itlog ni Kuya”. (For expat /foreigner-readers, the translation of “Itlog ni Kuya” is infused with Filipino humor. You need to ask a Filipino friend for the translation and watch for his/her reaction.) Nevertheless, those with salt intake restriction may appreciate the salted eggs next door (right side of Itlog ni Kuya if you are facing the store) because they are not that salty. However, for those who are craving the distinct saltiness of salted eggs, it is better to buy the ones from Itlog ni Kuya. Its website, found at http://www.itlognikuya.com/, has a listing of its outlets.
4. LILIW, Laguna. From Victoria, we then proceeded to Liliw, which is also known as the “Tsinelas (slippers) Capital of the Philippines.” We decided that this is where we will spend the night because it was already getting dark. From Jay’s recommendation, we went straight to Arabela’s Bakehaus & Coffee Shop (Rizal Street) and enjoyed a long lunch-cum-dinner of pasta and pizza. This place is surely a must-try– the food is delicious and priced reasonably.
It was challenging to find a place for the night because it was our first time here (Jay didn’t have any recommendation, too). Appreciating that this will be a “hit and miss”, we lowered our expectations and decided on Batis ng Liliw, which is a spring-water resort located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Brgy. Laguan. (For drivers, this is on the right side of the road enroute to Liliw, right after Nagcarlan.) The rooms here are very basic but you will love the owners, a nice old couple who graciously welcomed us and advised us about the schedule of the masses the next day, Sunday. (I googled for their names and they are Mr. and Mrs. Milagros and Carmelino Arrieta. Thank you, po, Ma’am Mila and Sir Carmelino, for welcoming us!) We were somehow “namahay” (the experience of finding it difficult to sleep when one is new to a place) but eventually lulled to sleep by the sounds of the flowing streams from Mt. Banahaw and the room’s air-conditioning unit.
The next morning, we said quick goodbyes to the owners and were able to reach St. John the Baptist Parish Church just as the 8:00 am mass was beginning. The Church is beautiful, with its red bricked façade and baroque style architecture. It was first built as a wooden church in 1620 (Huerta, 1865).
St. John the Baptist Parish Church in Liliw, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]
Of course, one should never leave Liliw without visiting the rows of slippers and shoe shops. The footwear products are reasonably-priced and looked durable enough. (I couldn’t attest to the quality yet but a quick Google search revealed happy customers who shared their satisfaction when it came to durability.) We liked the big slippers by the entrance doors of most of the shops so a souvenir photo is necessary!
5. MAGDALENA, Laguna.
Liliw is definitely a haven for footwear fanatics! [Image by JR Suarin]
From Liliw (enroute to Paete), we decided to make a quick trip to Magdalena to visit another old church, which was built in 1829. (Trivia: Magdalena is also known as “The Little Hollywood of Laguna”, it being a favorite location for Filipino films. The local government even built a sort of replica of Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.”) Here is a picture of the Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church. (Note that all pictures in this post had been taken through an iPad only.) If you want to see more pictures of the Church, please go to Jay’s blog at https://nakisnanay.blogspot.com/2011/04/magdalena-laguna.html
The Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]
After our prayers at the Church and some more picture-taking, we decided to enjoy a cold and refreshing drink: chocolate-flavored carabao’s milk. You can grab this at a store near the church (left side if you are facing the park fronting the church). We reminded ourselves to bring a cooler full of ice if we want to bring home kesong puti
(white cheese) and carabao’s milk on our next visit. (If you want to read more about the growing carabao milk industry in the Philippines, please visit http://www.pcc.gov.ph/newsdisplay.php?sq=269&id1=1)
6. LUMBAN, Laguna. On the way, we cannot help but stop at a good vantage point in Lumban to enjoy a view of scenic Laguna de Bay. Lumban is considered as “The Embroidery Capital of the Philippines.” Here, you will find the works of Lumban’s artisans on fabrics such as jusi and cocoon. Textile and clothing are not among my expertise so I searched online and found a good read: http://thestylishscholar.tumblr.com/post/41609376023/a-trip-to-lumban
The LGU put up a marker (with gigantic letters to spell out the word “Lumban”) along the highway overlooking the bay so we were also enticed by it to stop briefly so we can appreciate the view. As we didn’t bring a DSLR, we can only take a picture with one of the big letters. B is for beautiful!
7. PAETE, Laguna.
The Laguna de Bay from a ridge in Lumban, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]
From Lumban, we then proceeded to Paete, which is “The Carving Capital of the Philippines.” If you are looking for authentic wooden art pieces, sculptures, and religious statues, Paete is the perfect place for you. I chanced upon this site where you can read more about its culture and history: http://www.paete.org/abtpaete/ Meanwhile, a blogger had shared a lot of pictures so you can visit this link and have an idea on what to find in Paete: http://www.reach-unlimited.com/p/713686412/amazing-paete–that-custom-woodcraft-wundertown-hiding-in-laguna
JR and I did not linger here so much because we wanted to “reserve” the long exploration for our next visit.
8. PAKIL, Laguna. Enroute to Pililla, Rizal, we saw another beautiful church along the highway. We found out that this is called Saint Peter of Alcantara Parish Church, which is already in the municipality of Pakil. The original wooden structure was said to have been built in 1676. It is “home” to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba (or simply “Virgen de Turumba”). Because of the faithful’s deep reverence, they have been giving Our Lady with embroidered gowns all through the years that it has reached 50,000 already! Because of this, Our Lady changes gowns every two weeks. The gowns are then cut up into pieces (after being worn by Our Lady) and then given to devotees. The source of these bits of history and where you can read a more detailed story is here: https://marilil.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/pakil-laguna-a-church-for-every-juan-de-la-cruz/
The St. Peter of Alcantara Parish Church (Shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba)[Image by JR Suarin]
Before reaching Pililla, one should also stop by the roadside stalls for the other bounties of Laguna—the sweetest bananas, mangoes and pineapples! I was pleasantly surprised that the mangoes of Laguna are as sweet as the ones I have tried in Guimaras (and they are as cheap, too)!
9. PILILLA, Rizal. On the way back home (in Quezon City), we passed by Pililla, Rizal, where you can find the 27-tower wind farm. With the other wind farms in the Philippines (including those in Bangui, Burgos, Caparispisan, and Puerto Galera), our installed capacity now reaches about 400 MW (SunStar Davao, 2016).
Pililla Wind Farm (by Alternergy Wind One Corporation) [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]
The brief visit to the wind farm inspired me further to continue working on the promotion of renewable energies. In fact, this is among the primary reasons why I am writing this post! I hope that by reading this, more Filipino companies and investors will be inspired to build more RE plants! I predict a future where fossil-based electricity will become less and less viable.
10. ANTIPOLO, Rizal.
One of the towers of the Pililla Wind Farm. May the winds bring you to your dreams! [Image by JR Suarin]
Of course, the best part of traveling via the Rizal route is the enjoyment of a delicious meal in one of the restaurants along Sumulong Highway. There are perfect spots there where one can have a good view of the Metropolis. As we didn’t have time to research prior to this trip and it was a challenge to simply stop every time we fancy a new place (Sumulong is not meant for tentative driving), we ended up in a familiar establishment, Padi’s Point. The owners really need to improve the place and the menu but this is still a very good spot for enjoying the urban scenery from afar.
This had been a very enjoyable albeit an impromptu weekend travel, filled with talks, arts, history, food, prayers, and yes – appreciation of clean energy! JR and I decided that a longer trip to Laguna and Rizal should be planned again! (And of course, we promised to do a better research next time!)
Hiskey, D. (2015). How helicopters are designed to land safely when engines fail. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/how-helicopters-are-designed-to-land-safely-when-their-1708128868
Huerta, Felix de (1865). Estado geográfico, topográfico, estadístico, histórico-religioso. Binondo: Imprenta de M. Sanchez y Ca.
Saulon, V.V., (2016, January 20). Another wind farm eyed in Laguna-Rizal. Retrieved from http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Corporate&title=another-wind-farm-eyed-in-laguna-rizal&id=121821
SunStar Davao. (2016, January 24). Philippines is top wind energy producer in ASEAN. Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/business/2016/01/24/philippines-top-wind-energy-producer-asean-453487
Velasco, M. (2016, January 22). Alternergy plans wind power project expansion. Retrieved from http://www.mb.com.ph/alternergy-plans-wind-power-project-expansion/
For a videoclip on the Pililla Wind Farm, you may go to www.getlinkyoutube.com/watch?v=k-0a0q7C1lo
*A good article about balut is at http://eatyourworld.com/destinations/asia/philippines/manila/what_to_eat/balut
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