After the 1973 world oil crisis during which Arab oil exporting countries did an embargo, the Philippines began looking to nuclear power as a source of domestic energy. This led to an anti-nuclear movement throughout the late 70s and 80s to stop the construction of nuclear facilities and rid the country of US military bases allegedly housing nuclear weapons. The focal point of the movement was to take down the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), 100 km west of Manila, which was heavily criticized owing to its location close to a volcano and in an active earthquake zone . In 1976, during dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law, the Pittsburgh, USA-owned Westinghouse Electric Corporation won a $2.34 billion contract, pushed by “special sales representative” Herminio Disini, to build the 620-megawatt plant. This was a clear case of corruption.
Interest on loans taken out by the government to finance the project still currently amount to $300,000 a day, the biggest single loan in the country's $31-billion foreign debt portfolio. [3, 2, 6].
The Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC), Nuclear-Free Bataan (sister organization to Gloria Capitan’s Coal-Free Bataan), No Nukes Philippines, and other groups began mobilizing in January 1981, gathering environmental activists in a nationwide campaign combining lobbying, protesting, media, and international solidarity to stop the construction and operation of the BNPP, later expanding to targeting US military bases as well [11, 12]. On October 26, 1983, over 500 protestors marched from the University of the Philippines to the U.S. Embassy in Manila culminating in a public conference warning against nuclear. On June 13, 1984, approximately 2,000 activists rallied in front of the Embassy while burning an effigy of Uncle Sam, a symbol of the U.S. military. On October 6, about 2,000 activists burned an effigy of a skull in front of the Bataan Plant. On June 18, 1985, over 33,000 people including members of 22 antinuclear organizations performed a protest, march, and strike for 3 days during an event called “Welgang Bayan Laban sa Plantang Nukleyar” (“People’s Strike”) in Balanga, the capital of Bataan. This huge demonstration effectively froze the country, forcing attention to the issue. On September 20, the same day of a different bloody protest in Escalante over martial rule, the antinuclear activists protested in the Bataan Peninsula for two days. Military and police authorities suspiciously reported that during the two-day protest, the New Peoples Army (Communist party) killed seven activists [12, 13]. There is no corroboration of this.
The plant had been completed in 1984, and although hastily and poorly constructed, was the first nuclear facility in Southeast Asia [1, 6]. By 1986, operation was almost ready to begin, and uranium had already been shipped in from the US . Yet in February 1986, there was a people’s power revolution toppling the dictatorship . Corazon Aquino subsequently ran for and was elected president in April 1986 basing her campaign on promises to scrap the nuclear project as a corruption issue on top of being an environmental and safety hazard post-Chernobyl [3, 12]. She alleged that Westinghouse bribed Marcos for the contract when it initially lost the bid, and the government threatened and terrorized Westinghouse witnesses to keep them from speaking up . Disini was also funnelling anywhere between $40-80 million from the commission . True to her word, immediately upon assuming office, Aquino disbanded Marco’s energy program and suspended the BNPP’s operation . Yet in 1988, the energy crisis was still affecting the nation owing to the lack of alternatives to the nuclear plant. Electricity is often shut off for eight to 10 hours daily across Manila on an unpredictable rotating basis. Moreover, many in congress criticized Aquino for being too busy pursuing litigation against Westinghouse, spending as much as $30 million in the fight against them. However, after many years of stalling, Westinghouse was later acquitted for its criminal allegations on July 14, 1993. The courts also found insufficient evidence to charge Disini despite having been presented with over 40 witnesses and 600 incriminating documents. Judges ruled that damages were no more than the alleged bribe of $26 million. Aquino spurned two settlements for $100 million, refusing to back down from the argument that “Westinghouse engaged in illegal and immoral conduct against the people of the Philippines” .
In 1991, the antinuclear movement successfully convinced the Philippine Senate to remove US military facilities. The US bases left behind tons of toxic waste after withdrawing, so antinuclear groups helped clean it up .
Since 2009, the government reopened the plant as a tourist museum where guests learn about nuclear energy (from a perspective that it is not as bad as it seems rather than acknowledging its risks) [3, 11]. Tours of the plant, whose owners sold off the uranium in 1997, are booked months ahead, especially popular among Japanese tourists . Reactivation concerns were still active, however, and Nuclear-Free Bataan (NFB Net) kept advocating to get rid of it completely through events such as protests, prayer rallies, and bike rides. In retaliation to their advocacy, on June 26-27, 2009, Aurora Broquil, Francisco Honra, and Emily Fajardo, leaders in the NFB Net, received death threats through text messages stating “Dulo ng aming baril ang huli mong makikita! Kayong mga komunista na may mga utang na dugo sa mamamayan ay magbabayad! The barrel of our guns will be the last thing that you will see! You, communists, who have blood debts with the Filipino people, will pay for it!" Fajardo specifically was called out as a communist . When Honra tried calling the sender he heard the voice of a man on the line with the local Bataan accent . The next day, two unknown hitmen stalked Broquil on motorcycles around her office. She had recently filed a case against police before the Commission on Human Rights for assassinating two of her colleagues, Alberto Ocampo and Jose Gonzalez, on April 29, 2009.The three leaders had also just filed a case against the arbitrary arrest and torture of three other NFB activists, Limcumpao, Domingo Alcantara and Archie Bathan [7, 9]. Since then, NFB members continue to be followed when doing public addresses .
In 2011, government efforts to restart the nuclear plant were suspended in the wake of the Fukushima disaster . Protestors from NFB and local religious groups rallied outside of the BNPP on March 18, 2011, urging President Benigno Simeon Aquino to dismantle the plant, wearing “death masks,” burning a replica of the plant, and lying down on the pavement blocking the entrance . Yet as of 2020, the energy minister minister has proposed a formal executive order to the President’s Office to include nuclear power in the country’s energy mix. Congress is allegedly considering the establishment of an independent regulatory body and has drafted legislation to address nuclear safety and security issues. To support the Philippines’ nuclear potential, foreign suppliers of equipment from the US, Japan, Russia, France, and South Korea have already expressed interest in recent years and are keen to invest in the Philippines' nuclear power sector. The DoE also signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia's state-owned Rosatom for a pre-feasibility study on the construction of nuclear power plants in the country. Rosatom also offered to rehabilitate the plant for anywhere between $1-3 billion [3, 5]. Opposition to reviving Manila’s nuclear ambitions remains strong, with advocates citing a reliance on imported uranium, high waste and decommissioning costs, as well as safety concerns .