Bataan Nuclear Power Plant – Legacy of Marcos and Philippines’ biggest “white elephant” ever

Bataan Nuclear Power Plant –  legacy of Marcos

and Philippines’ biggest “white elephant” ever

By Apolinario Villalobos

In 1973, Marcos decided that the Philippines needed a nuclear power plant. He perceived it as an added sparkle to the grandeur of a nation, of which he was the benevolent leader. He also expected it to exude the same semblance of modernity that other Asian countries projected.

But whether it was really that necessary, was out of the question. Studies by experts showed that only 15% of the population would be directly benefited…only those living on Luzon Island. Three quarters of the population during the time lived in rural areas distributed on the rest of the islands, and who fetched water for cooking and drinking in artesian wells, springs or rivers where clothes were also washed and where carabaos bathed – all located, usually kilometers away from their home.

Studies also showed that one out of ten homes in villages were makeshift hovels with only one bulb in use, if lucky enough to get connected to towns with power lines sagging between bamboo poles. In other words, the nuclear-fed facility was not the immediate need of the Filipinos. The country was a struggling rice producer and with a population whose employed segment lived below the poverty line. In this view, what the country needed was the enhancement of its agriculture industry and related endeavors that would give direct benefits to Filipinos, to lessen poverty.

Another issue was on the safety aspect of having such facility. The location of the plant was less than 100 miles away from four active volcanoes, and it was also proximate to three geological faults. It is a blessing in disguise that the plant is not operating today, in view of the imminent onset of a cataclysmic earthquake for which the Luzon populace has been preparing.

As the immensity of the project at USD1.2B plus the interest was expectedly beyond the financial capacity of the government, Marcos sought the assistance of Export-Import Bank in Washington. The cost of the said project, represented almost one-fifth of the country’s foreign accountability at the time. It was also the most expensive nuclear project in the world!…being more than three times the cost of similar project built by Westinghouse and also financed by Export-Import Bank in Pusan, South Korea. Whether the loaned money was properly used for the project or part of which went somewhere else resulting to such enormous amount, nobody during the time of Marcos, bothered to ask openly.

Nevertheless, Ex-Im Bank provided USD277M in direct loans while USD367M came in loan guarantees, biggest loan package ever approved by the bank “anywhere in the world”, under the chairmanship of William J. Casey who later became CIA Director under the Reagan administration. The deal was made after Casey met with Marcos in Malacaῆan Palace. Among the American presidents, Reagan was the closest to the Philippine president.

Among those who allegedly benefited from the project was Herminio Disini who undertook portions of the project.  The wife of Disini was Imelda’s cousin who had been governess of her children. Disini on the other hand regularly played golf with Marcos. Before the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant project, Disini operated a tobacco filter “company” in a one-room rented office, with the help of a secretary and her younger brother. Later, he hired the son of a high-level official in the Bureau of Internal Revenue to sell filters, and who insinuated clear messages to cigarette makers requiring filters. The scheme worked, as the cigarette makers were avoiding audits from BIR.

To date, the inoperative Bataan Nuclear Power Plant stands out in the flagging economic landscape of the Philippines. The Filipinos meanwhile, continue groaning from the heavy weight of accountability that shall extend down to several generations from now.