"It was a criminal conspiracy."
The mothballing of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was a criminal conspiracy by a foreign-installed government to financially defraud the government. It wasa conspiracy committed by a government that claims to be holier-than-thou to financially discredit Marcos. Maybe we can say it was not the original plan of Marcos to put up a nuclear power plant but was suggested to him by the very people who will work to derail the project that culminated in his ouster from office.
The idea supposedly came from Eugenio Lopez, Sr., who would later become his arch-enemy. Lopez conveyed it to a loyal political ally, Senator Lorenzo Tañada, who worked for the passage of R.A. No. 5207, or the Atomic Energy Regulatory and Liability Act of 1968 only to inexplicably call his sponsored law “a project of monumental corruption, greed and folly.”
Sensing that Marcos intended to push through with the project that would allow the country to make a great leap forward, he issued P.D. No. 1484 amending certain sections of R.A. No. 5207 titled “an Act providing for the licensing and regulation of atomic energy facilities and materials, establishing the rules on liability for nuclear damage”, on June 11, 1978. It was the National Power Corporation that negotiated the contract to purchase the nuclear power machinery and equipment at a base price of $329 million. Later, it was decided that Westinghouse would also design the nuclear steam supply, construct civil works, erect and test electro-mechanical equipment, manage construction and provide training services. The total cost for the equipment and services amounted to $562 million, at a September 1974 base price.
Since the delivery of the equipment and services would take about seven years, the base price was subject to escalation clause. Interest during the construction period added a substantial amount to the total cost of the project. The financing charges were estimated at $266 million.
There were actually two sources for the project loan, which originally amounted to $1.109 billion. For the purchase of nuclear technology (equipment, materials, and fuel), NPC obtained a loan of $644.4 million (or 59.44 percent of the total cost) from the US Eximbank, the only financing institution authorized by the US government to purchase nuclear technology.
Besides paying Westinghouse, NPC also had to undertake site selection and preparation, fuel procurement and contracting for fabrication and shipment, transmission facilities, insurance, etc., all of which were estimated to cost $166 million.
Based on the original design, the estimated total cost for the project until its completion in 1983 was $1.109 billion, broken down into foreign exchange costs of $833 million, and costs worth $266 million. All in all, NPC incurred additional project costs estimated at $844 million, broken down into the following components:
Safety upgrades($100 million), cost escalation ($292 million), financing charges ($373 million), other contract scope changes ($79 million).
The hypocritical foreign-installed Aquino government ranted without let up about the corruption in the Marcos administration, yet her cabal in the opposition kept on introducing modifications to the project to allegedly ensure safety – until the cost ballooned to $2.3 billion. They coursed their suggestion through their political handlers who pretended to welcome them as fruitful contributions.
The estimated project cost then skyrocketed to $1.95 billion. As a captive client, NPC had to continue servicing the loan obligation. To quote Velasco: “Although the government’s basis for assuming NPC loans seemed reasonable (i.e., the mothballing of the nuclear power plant deprived the company of potential revenues from which to repay its obligations), nobody expected Mrs. Aquino to honor the nuclear power plant’s debts after claiming the project was tainted by fraud and corruption.
Despite calls by some of her closest supporters not to pay “fraudulent” debts, Mrs. Aquino chose to play safe and promised the country’s creditors that her government would “pay every cent” of the country’s foreign debts, including the nuclear plant’s. What made the situation more awful was that Mrs. Aquino, in the eyes of the Western world, was hailed as the champion of freedom and democracy just as President Marcos was vilified as dictator.
It is said that the government paid out $460 million (P9.5 billion at the exchange rate of $1 = P21), or between $300,000 and $375,000 a day in debt service, from 1987 to 1989. Payments were made at a time when the economy was experiencing minimal to negative growth.
If we are to take the decision of President Cory Aquino to forego the operation of the BNPP, the next logical step should have been for her to discontinue the payment of loan. It was the escalation clause, the interest rate, the currency adjustment clause that buried NPC deep into the game engineered by hustlers on Wall Street.
When Mrs. Aquino ordered the full payment of the loan knowing she would not allow it to operate, she committed the most serious act of betrayal of public trust. People were made to believe that she was true to her word, that Marcos was corrupt to the bone that the Filipino people will ultimately pay a total of $2.3 billion about to be flushed into the septic tank. Clearly, she used her position as the US-installed president to commit the unprecedented criminal act of misappropriation and breach of public trust, for clearly she exercised her power without citing any valid reason to justify her action. It was evident she was protecting the interest of Westinghouse than of the Filipino people.
Interestingly, the closure of the BNPP was based on two serious allegations. One, that it was graft-ridden which is the reason why the original price of $600 million ballooned to $2.3 billion. Two, the plant stands on unsafe grounds and had defects in its construction.
But before any of these allegations were brought to court for justice to be meted out on Marcos and his alleged cronies, and to justify the withholding of payment or to demand damages, there should have been a trial. Instead, Mrs. Aquino issued executive orders almost immediately after she was installed to office by coup d’ etat pre-empting any possibility of hearing the allegations of corruption and shabby construction of the project.
First, she issued EO No. 20 on June 19, 1986 placing the offices, agencies and corporations attached to the Ministry of Energy under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President. This explains why Cesar Buenaventura, despite being identified as the unofficial energy czar, never allowed himself to be appointed secretary of energy; his main agenda was to recommend the abolition of the Ministry.
Second, EO No. 55 issued on October 1, 1986, “transferring to the national government the Philippine nuclear power plant I, its equipment, materials, facilities, records and uranium fuel, providing for the assumption of the remaining foreign loan obligations of the NPC with foreign lenders under the loan contracted by the NPC and guaranteed by the Republic of the Philippines and of the peso obligations incurred to finance the construction of said nuclear plant by the national government”. This means that the BNPP ceased to operate or was mothballed, not by any court order, but by mere EO. Despite that, the holier-than-thou people insisted her EO was democratic.