Tiwi: Birthplace of Philippine Geothermal Energy

Energy tapped from underground.

Energy tapped from underground.

LEGASPI CITY - In the past, hot springs were the main attractions of Tiwi, a second class municipality in the province of Albay. 

 “The popularity of these hot springs has diminished in recent years due to the nearby construction of a geothermal plant,” current mayor Jaime Villanueva told the visiting members of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists.

History records show the Philippine Congress, recognizing the potential and benefits of geothermal development, enacted Republic Act No. 5092, otherwise known as the Geothermal Law in 1967.  That same year, Dr. Arturo P. Alcaraz and his team came to Tiwi and lit a light bulb using steam-powered electricity coming from MountMalinao. 

That was the first geothermal power generated in the Philippines.  By 1982, Tiwi became the world’s first water-dominated geothermal system to produce more than 160 megawatts (MW).  Its currently installed capacity is 289 MW.

Electric power is measured in units called watt.  A watt is equal to one joule (the quantity of energy that can be generated from a fuel such as oil or gas) per second.  The total generating capacity of a power plant is measured in kilowatt (KW) for 1,000 watts, and megawatt (MW) for one million watts.

“Geothermal energy offers significant environmental and economic advantages over fossil fuels in generating electricity,” said the Chevron Geothermal Philippines Holdings, Inc. (CGPHI) in a statement.   “As a renewable energy source, geothermal energy creates significantly less greenhouse gasses.”

Greenhouses gases include carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons from air conditioners and refrigerators, methane gas from landfills and rice fields, and the nitrogen compound, nitrous oxide, from burning fossil fuels and fertilizers.  Global warming is believed to be caused by increased concentrations of these gases emitted by human activities into the atmosphere.

Geothermal energy also offers substantial economic benefits.  Since 1977, geothermal energy has saved the Philippine government over US$7 billion in costs associated with the import of fossil fuels.

 You can have a good view of the Tiwi Geothermal Power Plant by visiting the Naglagbong Geothermal People’s Park (more popularly known as Nag Park).  According to locals, the park used to have hot springs, vents, boiling mud pools and silica center mounds.  People visiting the place would boil eggs from steaming holes.

A hydrothermal eruption in 1980 ended the park’s thermal activities. Since then, it was transformed into a park with the combined efforts of the local government, National Power Corporation, and Philippine Geothermal, Inc.

Tiwi is known not only because of the geothermal plant, but also for its coron, those pottery products that are shaped in different forms and sizes either in round or hexagonal shapes.

This traditional industry can be traced back in the early part of the seventeenth century when the sticky clay dug at the hilly place near the sea was discovered to have a various uses.  Early settlers formed them in different shapes and used them for cooking, eating or drinking.

Philippine handmade ceramics or coron.

Philippine handmade ceramics or coron.

Today, making coron (a Bicol dialect which means “claypot” or “pottery”) is one of the good sources of income of the people.  At barangay Putsan, you can visit Philippine Ceramics, a big warehouse cum factory of these products.  Visitors are allowed and you can even take pictures and see how the pots are actually made.  You can get a glimpse of its modern oven used for cooking art-formed clays.  There is also a display area for the finished products, where you can select and buy.

It was good that during our visit, the town was celebrating the Coron Festival.  Actually, it is a showcase of events highlighted by a street presentation participated in by the different public and private schools and various sectors.  The celebration is capped with a long maritime procession of different local sea vessels passing the Albay Gulf going to the quiet barangay Joroan, the home of the miraculous image.

Carol Carullo, the town’s tourism official, says there are several places of interest in Tiwi.  For one, there’s the Bugsukan Falls, a good picnic site for most travelers.  However, it can only be reached by watercraft. 

For the thrill fanatics and adventure loving visitors, Busayan Falls is for them.  “The route is beautiful but can be challenging for those who are not familiar with the place,” the tourism brochure states.  For those seeking their last minute family holidays, the travel time is about 10 to 12 hours; an overnight stay in a camp is required.

The tourism office shares these tips when coming to Tiwi: Light casual wear is always practical when touring around.  Bring warm garments during rainy days (July to September) or when visiting mountainous areas where night can be cool and chilly.  On hot summer months (March to May), wear a hat and a pair of sunglasses.  Carry insect repellant, bottled water, and a flashlight when visiting remote and forested areas.

Carullo also advised visitors to register in the Visitor’s Information Center when visiting tourist spots “for better facilitation and assistance.”

Historical and pretty - Tiwi in the Philippines.

Historical and pretty - Tiwi in the Philippines.

Tiwi has such a colorful history.  Wikipedia shares this information: “Before the establishment of the municipality of Tiwi by the Spaniards, the present poblacion and the barangays of Baybay, Libjo, Cararayan, and Naga were part of the Pacific Ocean, and the hill shared by barangays Bolo and Putsan was an islet. A volcanic eruption of the now dormant Mount Malinao filled up this part of the sea joining the hill of Bolo and Putsan with the mainland of Luzon.

 “This place began as a barrio of Malinao before it was formally organized as a politically independent pueblo in 1696. As a Catholic parish, it was administered by a secular priest under the then Diocese of Nueva Caceres, now an archdiocese. In its primeval stages, it had some 1,105 houses, a parish church, a community-funded primary school, and a cemetery outside the town proper.”

How did it get its name?  In 1658, Spanish Franciscan friars planted the cross near the shore north of Malinao. The friars called the place Tigbi, after an abundant local plant. The name later evolved into Tivi, and finally evolved to its present name Tiwi.

Tiwi is located about 300-kilometer southeast of Manila.  It is accessible by air from Manila (travel time is 55 minutes).  Both Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly daily from Manila to Legazpi City, the province’s capital.

From the Legazpi airport, visitors can take a tricycle to the Bus/Filcab terminal bound to Tabaco City.  From Tabaco City, they can ride a jeepney bound to Tiwi.

There are also air-conditioned buses plying the Manila-Tabaco route.  Travel time is about 10 hours.  Terminals of these buses are located at the Araneta Center, Cubao, Pedro Gil Street, Manila, and EDSA, Pasay City.