IT has become a normal occurrence to have President Duterte say one thing only to watch him eat his own words, as fed him by some Cabinet member or other. One can’t help but wonder if they care at all about the President’s credibility, and why it is that too often, his own appointees can’t stand by the President’s decisions that actually do right by the nation.
Case in point: nuclear power. In early November, President Duterte declared “no” to nuclear power, not under his watch. He contextualized the decision in the fact that we are not yet in the midst of an energy crisis: “Wala pa talaga tayo sa danger zone that we will die if there’s no energy.”
He also said that the risk was just too high. “Huwag muna ngayon kasi we have to come up with … really, really tight safeguards to assure that there will be no disasters if there is a nuclear leak or explosion somewhere in the nuclear reactors that we will build in.… For after all, ‘pag may leak ‘yan, ‘pag mag-ano, lahat tayo tatamaan diyan. And it’s our country, remember that” (Inquirer.net, 2 Nov).
Did the President greenlight the BNPP?
Nine days after, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told media that the President had given the green light for the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) rehabilitation. Cusi said: “The President raised his concerns, and I gave him the assurance that we would not do it recklessly…I reassured him that all of his concerns will be addressed. We are going to follow the strict measures of the International Energy Agency” (Inquirer.net, 12 Nov).
This piece of news was carried across many news outfits, with only one carrying a contrary story, stating that it was a feasibility study that the President said yes to–-not at all the rehabilitation of the 40-year-old BNPP.
But there was also this direct quote from Cusi himself: “[President Duterte] has spoken and after he has spoken I talked to him and made clarification and [sought]clearance that I proceed to work for its [BNPP’s] implementation and full operation” (Business World, 12 Nov).
Five days after, Senator Loren Legarda would be quoted as saying that there is “nothing definite” about the BNPP revival, that Cusi and the Department of Energy (DOE) were just “keeping an open mind,” and that energy undersecretary Wimpy Fuentebella had said that “the President was just open to the possibility of [the BNPP]being studied, not the reopening or the rehab” (GMAnetwork.com, 17 Nov).
Two days after, Legarda would tell Senator Win Gatchalian (so far the only senator who has a strong anti-BNPP revival stance) that the 2017 budget for the DOE does not include the rehabilitation, and that, according to Cusi, he “had no clear direction from the President saying that opening BNPP is a clear priority” (Inquirer.net, 19 Nov).
Who’s doing what, and toward what end?
It gets more confusing.
Cusi told the President that they would follow IEA measures in rehabilitating the BNPP, but it was also mentioned that earlier in the week of November 12 (when Cusi made the greenlight announcement), the DOE had already “tapped Energy for Humanity…to inspect and do a feasibility study on the BNPP [which]will help in forming a decision on repowering the 30-year-old facility” (Philstar.com, 12 Nov).
A week after, in relation to Senate deliberations on the DOE budget, we would find out that “the DOE has created the Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization (NEPIO) that would undertake a comprehensive study on the use of nuclear power, guided by the conditions listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for developing a national infrastructure for nuclear power” (Inquirer.net, 19 Nov).
The creation of NEPIO was in the news on November 10. Energy undersecretary Donato Marcos had talked about it as “the body that will conduct a study to guarantee safety and social acceptability of nuclear energy in the Philippines” (GMANetwork.com). Marcos also said: “We are really on (sic) the process of studying nuclear power and we will come up in the near future with a road map that we can present to the public.”
This begs the question: if you are studying something, why would the final product be a roadmap at all? A roadmap is a plan, one that presumes DOE has already decided on nuclear power and is not merely in the process of figuring out whether or not it is feasible. According to the IAEA guidelines, Phase 1 of NEPIO should be “to compile the information necessary for a knowledgeable policy decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear power program.” Invoking a “roadmap” certainly sounds like the DOE has decided to proceed.
What is Secretary Cusi doing?
With no clarifications from Secretary Cusi, and given the lack of transparency about who are even in the NEPIO, how are we to trust the DOE?
Add to this the fact that while Cusi invokes his knowledge of nuclear power, one realizes that he has no expertise or experience at all in energy, science, or technology. As Senator PanfiloLacson has pointed out: his expertise is in logistics and transportation. Why again is he energy secretary?
While we’re asking questions, a reliable source tells me that Cusi has stopped implementing the feed-in tariff (FIT) which is provided for by Republic Act 9513 to “accelerate the development of emerging renewable energy resources.” In early November, Cusi declared that FIT was “overburdening our consumers…We want to bring down our electricity rates but how can we bring it down if we keep on giving FIT?” (Philstar.com, 4 Nov)
Yet Cusi’s push for the BNPP rehabilitation will cost P50 billion pesos, a cost that will surely be passed on to consumers. Yet Cusi has yet to talk about EPIRA and the burden of a privatized, deregulated energy industry on the public.
In the case of Cusi’s DOE, it is the silences – including the confused statements and reign of misinformation – that speaks volumes.***