Better Active Today than Radioactive Tomorrow:
Lessons from the Anti-BNPP Struggle in the Philippines

Roland G. Simbulan
Vice Chair, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG);
Professor of Development Studies and Public Management
University of the Philippines

I will attempt to share our collective experience and insights in the successful and historic struggle against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Morong, Bataan province, Philippines. It is my way of looking back to go forward. How the Filipino people stopped the BNPP project - what was supposed to be the first nuclear power plant in the Philippines -  is a great story. It is my honor to share this collective experience of my people.

Simbulan delivers his plenary paper at Taiwan No Nukes conference

     Since the mid-1970s in the Philippines, there have been several attempts to embark on a nuclear power plant program, starting with the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, Bataan. The Philippines' grassroots anti-nuclear movement - even under the most repressive conditions of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s , 1980s, and up to the present - has made sure that not a single nuclear power plant operates on the Philippine archipelago. Grassroots education, a broad and united resistance of the people and the nuclear-free determination of the Filipino people foiled and prevented nuclear power from ever setting a foothold on the Philippines. 

      The Marcos dictatorship wanted to construct the first nuclear power plant in the Philippines under a repressive situation and under an atmosphere of secrecy and censorship.  It was only in the late 1970s that the Filipino people were informed by the foreign media about the project although it was already started in 1976. 

     The people's resistance to the BNPP took off at first at the local community level.  People organized themselves to oppose the nuclear power plant which was being built near Mt. Natib, still classified as an active volcano and facing the earthquake-prone Manila Trench. The BNPP construction was from the beginning marred and tainted with corruption because the U.S. company, Westinghouse Corporation, actually lost the bidding process but used its influence through a close confidant of Marcos, Herminio Disini, to secure the contract. The BNPP project reeked with corruption because this single nuclear power plant eventually cost the Filipino taxpayers US$2.34 billion, which went to the pockets of the dictator and his minions. Soon, the people's opposition became a national campaign and resistance. It also became a formidable resistance to the Marcos dictatorship which was eventually overthrown through a people power revolution in February 1986. 

Alternative RE from nature

     The Philippines is richly endowed with alternative and renewable power sources from nature. Thus, one cannot help but wonder why some people or sectors are still pushing the country to go nuclear? Is it for greed or for profit?

     For policy reform on energy and the environment, it is important in integrating the principles of sustainable development into the country's energy policies and programs to reverse the destruction of the environment. There must also be a policy of environmental education and community participation to contribute to the strengthening of an environmental culture which promotes the critical and participatory attitude to promote sustainable development.

Energy policies

    Genuine reforms in the Philippine energy sector must start in true energy independence that allows the country to control and develop its vast potential for indigenous and environmentally-friendly sources of energy. This is also tied up with the country's ability to control and manage its own resources, its industries and national economy in general. The objective of any energy resource development and management plan must be to have reliable and affordable energy supplies for economic development as well as for the country's natural security. 

     The government should play a key role in its long-term energy program. Private sector participation may be invited, but limited where government has technological limitations, and private sector participation must be on a competitive basis. 

    On the long term, let me recommend a few strategic principles in our energy development program:

     The safety, health and welfare of the people can better be assured with alternative sources of renewable energy which exclude nuclear options and discourage fossil fuel sources in our energy mix. We should be tapping instead nature's bountiful energy sources, especially the sun and water, energy from the wind, earth (geothermal), biomass conversion , and many others. 

     Alternative power sources especially from nature can liberate us from foreign energy sources whether it is oil or uranium - the fuel for nuclear power plants. Alternative power sources from nature's bountiful energy sources can provide most of our energy needs, together with energy-saving technology at the supply side. It only requires that the nation and its leaders make the political decision to develop rapidly and expand these renewable, safe, and clean energy sources. 

     Here, in brief, are the lessons from the anti-BNPP nuclear power plant struggle in the Philippines:

  1. Solid organizing at the local and national level.
  2. Involve ALL sectors, including students, teachers, local officials, church people, health practitioners, environmental advocates, etc. for a popular struggle.
  3. Wage a cultural struggle to simplify and popularize our message through songs, film, drama, comics, etc. 
  4. Initiate legal proceedings in courts, as well as initiate and lobby for legislative efforts to institutionalize victories.
  5. Launch campaigns locally and internationally against the financing of the harmful nuclear technologies. 
  6. Activate transnational networks for international solidarity. 
  7. Creatively critique the nuclear power and fossil fuel energy paradigm, but also popularize renewable energy sources that will not bring harm to the health and safety of the people. 

IN SUM, we have waged a comprehensive people's campaign at the grassroots involving all local communities, sectors and even local governments. The fundamental lesson of the Filipino people's struggle against the BNPP is that, despite formidable odds, we must trust our people's resolve and their capacity, in due time, to redress wrongs and injustices inflicted upon them by those in power.

     Our movements will redefine democracy, organize large sectors of society into strong, dynamic, social movements with enough power to influence local and national politics. The challenge is to make our leaders accountable, and to strengthen grassroots democratic power. 

      This is not just my story. It is the story of the Filipino people who with their courage, unity and spirit stopped what they called "the Monster of Morong."

*(Plenary address before the 2019 No Nukes Asia Forum International Conference in Taipei, Taiwan last Sept.21-23, 2019. Hosted by the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU), the conference was attended by participants from 14 Asian countries and three Nobel Prize winners.)

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