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The continuing struggle for a nuclear-free Philippines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: The magazine of hope

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

(October 16, 1998) The nuclear program in the Philippines started in 1958 with the creation of the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) under Republic Act 2067. In July 1973, under a regime of martial rule, the Marcos government announced its decision to build a nuclear power plant, to be constructed by Westinghouse. Westinghouse clinched the contract through Herminio Disini, a Marcos crony acting as a "special sales representative". Westinghouse bribed Disini and Marcos with at least US$17 million to secure the contract.

(499/500.4935) Corazon Valdez-Fabros - Under an atmosphere of corruption and repression that characterized the martial law regime, the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) started in 1977 at Napot site in Morong, Bataan, nine kilometers from the volcano Mt. Natib situated between the Philippine Fault and the West Luzon Fault, at a cost of US$2.2 billion.

After the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US, the BNPP construction was immediately stopped. An inquiry on the plant's safety revealed 4,000 defects. "...Mr. Marcos and his nuclear advisers may well be long remembered for having put up the most expensive and dangerous nuclear power plant in the world, thereby saddling present and future generations of Filipinos with enormous foreign loans...," according to former Senator Lorenzo Tanada, on August 6, 1983.

Today, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant stands as a monument to man's folly, to pride and refusal to admit a mistake--a grim memorial of the betrayal of the Filipino people.

In February 1986, the Filipino people ousted the dictatorial and fascist regime of Mr. Marcos through a massive display of popular indignation during the "People's Power Revolution". On April 30, 1986, in response to strong opposition from Bataan residents and a broad cross-section of the citizenry, and in the wake of the Chernobyl accident, the newly installed Aquino administration decided to "mothball" the plant, pursue court action against Westinghouse, and form a Cabinet Committee on the BNPP to study options and alternatives.

The People`s Response: A Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition
The Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC) was established in January 1981 in response to the need for a campaign center for the opposition to the BNPP. It evolved into a campaign-oriented coalition of national and sectoral organizations nationwide united in the vision of a nuclear-free Philippines. Its immediate main task was to stop the construction and the operation of the BNPP.
The NFPC embarked on a nationwide organizing, lobbying, protest actions, and media as well as international solidarity work to generate international support for the anti-nuclear campaign. The formation of an energetic provincewide movement--the Nuclear Free Bataan Movement--was crucial in developing the issue into a national concern. The opposition to the BNPP became a major national issue against the dictatorial and fascist regime of Marcos.

The Philippine government's decision to "mothball" the BNPP was a victory for the people of Bataan and for the coalition that paved the way for still another coalition to take on the struggle for the removal of US military bases in the Philippines. The coalition shifted its campaign against nuclear weapons, focusing on the US military bases and troops, and nuclear weapons.

When President Aquino convened the Constitutional Convention, the coalition lobbied for a freedom-from-nuclear-weapons provision in the new Constitution overwhelmingly ratified by the Filipino people. One central content of the coalition's work at that time was the declaration of many provinces, cities, towns and schools as nuclear-free zones. The Philippine Constitution provided the Philippine Senate with enough legal basis to reject the Republic of Philippines (RP)-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991, paving the way for a Philippines that was not only nuclear-free but bases-free. In November 1992, the final withdrawal of US troops and closure of military facilities ended almost a century of US domination and occupation of the Philippines.

The Aquino Government Resurrects the BNPP Issue
In 1987, former President Corazon Aquino transformed the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission into the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), through Executive Order 128. It mandated the PNRI to "promote and regulate peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including its application in power generation, agriculture, medicine, and others".

In 1988, the Philippine government filed two cases against Westinghouse Corporation: first, a criminal case in the US Federal District Court in Newark, New Jersey, for bribery, and second, a civil case in the International Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland, to declare the contract with Westinghouse null and void due to bribery.

On March 5, 1992, the Aquino government agreed to negotiate a US$100 million out-of-court settlement lopsidedly in favor of Westinghouse. Its terms, among others:

  • Westinghouse to give the Philippines US$10 million; plus US$75 million credits on upgrade costs; plus US$15 million discounts on non-BNPP sales;
  • RP to borrow US$400 million from Eximbank for Westinghouse to upgrade the plant;
  • RP to pay Westinghouse US$40 million annually, plus 2.9 cents per KWH, for 30 years;
  • RP responsible for decommissioning, waste disposal, security, infrastructure, emergencies, power supply outages, permits, licenses, etc.

Among the objectionable features of the settlement were that:

  • The case against Westinghouse would be dropped;
  • The escalation clauses would negate whatever payments Westinghouse would make to the Philippines;
  • Westinghouse would not be liable for cost of decommissioning nuclear waste disposal, etc.; and
  • The estimated earnings for the National Power Corporation were either false or questionable.

The Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives rejected the settlement agreement.

The Second Wave of Protests Against the BNPP
Along with the massive lobby work, the NFPC initiated the formation of a network of BNPP oppositors to project a broader base of organizations and individuals to rally public opinion and pressure the government to scuttle the lopsided Aquino-Westinghouse settlement and prevent the operation of the controversial nuclear power plant. On April 2, 1992, the Network Opposed to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (NO to BNPP) was formally launched to block the operation of the BNPP and scrap the Aquino-Westinghouse out-of-court settlement agreement; pursue the case against Westinghouse et al and the banks involved in the fraud; and to block securitization and cancel payments of BNPP loans.

Tri-media approach was maximized to reach the broadest audience and create informed public opinion. Every opportunity and venue for the issue to be ventilated before the general public was maximized despite the limited resources to maintain a highly visible campaign. The radio program "Radyo Kasarinlan" (Radio Sovereignty) was maintained to reach distant villages where newspapers were unavailable. The NFPC Resource Center and Library was opened for researchers on nuclear related issues.
The Network Opposed to BNPP demanded the suspension of all payments on the remaining BNPP loans and further raised safety and other relevant issues against the BNPP operation. It also pushed for a ban on Westinghouse deals even when government refused any settlement as it awaited bigger offers and avoided the political consequences of a very controversial issue as the BNPP.

Fooled a Second Time
Due to its eagerness to do business again in the Philippines, in February 1995 Westinghouse again made a very lopsided US$52-million settlement package mostly for rebates and discounts for future purchases. It was like adding more insult to injury. It was no surprise when the cash-strapped Philippine government signed in October 1995 a US$100-million settlement package freeing Westinghouse from any liability for the defective plant; it ended the two-year ban on Westinghouse equipment in the country's power sector, at the expense of the Filipino people who were still to pay US$300,000 a day for the interest alone of the BNPP-related loan, an unbearable expense for a people impoverished by the rampant plunder by Marcos and his clique.

Nuclear Energy for Philippines 2000
On May 12, 1995, President Ramos signed Executive Order 243, "Comprehensive Nuclear Power Program for the Philippines 2000". The order signalled the intention of the government to go full scale into a nuclear program that would set up not just one but several nuclear power plants. The executive order mandated an inter-agency committee to conduct a nationwide campaign on the supposed advantages of nuclear power, to identify nuclear waste storage facilities, and to study problems and issues related to nuclear plant operations. The nuclear development plan considered three timetables:

  1. Short-term optional approach, 1994-1998. Operate the BNPP within three years after regulatory upgrades.
  2. Medium-term approach, 1994-2005. BNPP would not be reactivated. Nuclear power could supply about 5,000 MW as part of the required 9,600-MW baseload in the power development program. Source undetermined.
  3. Long-term approach - 2005-2020. Produce about 25,000-MW electricity from nuclear power by 2020, when total demand would be 52,000 MW.

The government, supported by the IAEA, launched public acceptance programs promoting nuclear power for multinational companies in Asia as nuclear power industries face a decline in the industrialized West. The nuclear industries were pursuing their marketing blitz to sell their old, obsolete, defective nuclear reactors to Asia. Already, nuclear energy subjects were incorporated in school curricula and Nuclear Engineering and Science courses in college were promoted.
In December 1996, the Department of Energy revealed 10 sites for the construction of nuclear plants.
These recent developments are new challenges to the anti-nuclear movement in the Philippines that continues to grow and adopt legal and extra-legal methods in its campaign.

The Continuing Struggle for a Nuclear-Free Philippines
The anti-nuke movement's victory in opposing the BNPP, and its successful campaign against the US military bases in the Philippines, are clear examples of what a united and determined people can do to attain their common goal.

The struggle is far from over. Today, we are confronted with the government's nuclear energy program against the backdrop of rising economic and political crisis, the Asian region's nuclearization, and the continued assault and exploitation on its people and environment that greatly affects their socio-economic and political condition. There is also now the Estrada government's sinister plot to restore the authoritarian rule through amendments to the Constitution, the implementation of the repressive National Identification (ID) System, and the government's endorsement of a new military agreement with the US allowing the return of US military troops in the Philippines.
The continuing struggle for a nuclear-free, bases-free Philippines will meet these challenges head-on with strong international solidarity, more determined and committed than it was during the Marcos dictatorship.

Source and Contact: Corazon Valdez-Fabros, Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition. Room 312 UCCP Building, 877 EDSA, Quezon City, Philippines.
Tel: +63-2-924-0215 local 121; Fax: +63-2-931-1153