Access to Clean and Sustainable Electricity is a Human Right

Many human rights scholars have determined that while universal access to electricity is not given formal recognition as a universal right, it is unanimously considered a proxy for social and economic rights. Consider this: the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) has SDG No.7: Access to Clean Energy, symbolized by the light bulb and the power button. This inclusion in the SDGs is a tacit acknowledgment of the importance of energy access as a human right.


Access to electricity leads to improved access to better job opportunities, necessary services such as healthcare and water, and allows improvements in the provision of other services that are necessary to human development such as information and education, transportation, and even play and recreation.


In the current set-up, however, electricity continues to be very expensive for low-income families, and even inaccessible to many communities, especially in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) both in the rural and urbanized regions.

Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has also caused- among many social challenges – the mass lay-off of over 4 million Filipinos, families find it even harder to pay for electricity and thus are forced to limit their consumption.


“EJK Families” finding it hard to make ends meet, pay for electricity


In Caloocan earlier in July, the WeGen Social Transformation Team held a discussion with some 20 relatives of victims of the Duterte government’s campaign of extrajudicial killings that is a component of its so-called war against drugs.


The San Roque Cathedral’s Social Action Center (SAC) in coordination with the Office of Caritas Caloocan helps these families cope with the trauma of their experience (some of the relatives directly witnessed the execution of their loved ones in their own homes) and provide them financial assistance.


Most of those who fell victim to EJK in Caloocan are men and boys – heads of families and main breadwinners, or were earning and contributing to their families' finances. Those who attended the discussion represented families who had lost fathers and brothers to the EJKs perpetrated by the Philippine National Police (PNP), and they said that apart from the seriously painful loss of their loved ones, they are also forced to bear the heavier burden of meeting the financial requirements of daily survival.


As one mother said, the impact of the loss of income was also felt when her husband was killed – he was gunned down inside their house in August 2016, along with their eldest son who was 19.


“Naging mas mahirap para sa amin na punuin yung mga pangangailangan namin sa bahay kasi ako na na lang ang kumikita. Construction worker dati ang asawa ko. Anim ang anak namin. Yung panganay naman namin, nag-aaral at nagsa-sideline noon bilang waiter sa isang catering company; nakakatulong din yung binibigay niyang pera para sa pag-aaral ng mga kapatid niya. Nung pinatay sila, nabawasan din ang kakayanan ng pamilya namin na magkaroon ng sapat na kita pambayad ng upa sa bahay, pambayad ng tubig at kuryente, pambili ng pagkain,” she said.


“It has become harder for us to stretch the money we had at the time. I became the sole money earner. My husband was a construction worker, and we had six children. Our eldest son who was also killed was a student, but he did part-time work as a waiter for a catering company. He gave us part of his salary, and it was a big help- we used it for his younger siblings' tuition and other needs. When they were killed, our family’s means were also significantly lessened. We had less money to pay for rent, for food, and yes, for utilities like water and electricity. “


Electricity rates, all of the representatives of the EJK families said, were really high. None of them understood the details of the monthly electricity bills that arrived every month --- what the itemized fees that amounted to the final total bill meant. They just gritted their teeth and paid.


To those with relatively higher incomes, P1,000 to P1,200 may be a paltry amount, but for the families of EJK victims who earn P5,000 to P7,000 monthly, P1,000 is a significant amount. Most of the EJK families work in the informal sector, engaged in underground economy work.

The ST Team shared that many reforms in the country’s energy sector should still be implemented and monitored closely to ensure that they benefit the marginalized sectors. They said that the country’s transition from using expensive electricity generated from burning dirty fossil fuels to utilizing clean, inexpensive, safe, and renewable energy is still a long way in coming, but by educating and informing more and more Filipinos about these issues, the Philippines can gain headway.


The WeGen ST Team also shared with the families information about how electricity access – specifically clean, safe, sustainable, and renewable electricity – is considered a human right in the international human rights community. They also explained about Pope Francis’ encyclical and call to environmental conversion Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.


“All these issues are interconnected. When we speak of human rights, we refer to all that people need to live, improve, develop and thrive. Only a truly just and humane society will be able to respect all these rights and more – from providing energy access to the poorest of the poor so they can improve their economic standing and quality of life to respecting civil, political, and democratic rights of all citizens to live in dignity and concerning nature and the environment,” said the ST Team. #

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