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Win Gatchalian to DOE: Be transparent in PH nuclear agenda

BATAAN, Philippines – A guard opens the gate to the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant for visiting senators and stakeholders during their visit 16 Sept 2016. Nuclear power is a very controversial source of power. The government should not cloak its plans and actions in secrecy, Senate Committee on Energy chair Senator Win Gatchalian said. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Sen. Win Gatchalian has called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to be more transparent in its nuclear energy program agenda amid reports that the Philippines and Russia signed a deal on exploring the possible construction of nuclear power plant in the country.

Gatchalian made the call for transparency as the Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee E, which he chairs, scrutinized the DOE’s proposed ₱97 million budget allocation for the country’s nuclear program agenda.

During the DOE’s budget hearing, Gatchalian quizzed Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi on whether the Department of Energy had already secured President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval for them to proceed with its nuclear program agenda.

“Our briefing disclosed to us that it was already endorsed to our President. The next question now is whether to pursue it or not,” Gatchalian said. “Right now, parang walang direction. Kung walang direction, does that mean do we still pursue or is that a tacit signal to pursue?”

Gatchalian also raised the question of constitutionality of pursuing the nuclear program in the country. The lawmaker said, without the president’s approval, allocating funds may be rendered useless.

“We already spent ₱48 million this year and next year, we will be spending ₱97 million. So, in total, we will be spending ₱135 million on this nuclear agenda but we don’t know whether the President wants to pursue it or not. Then, we get a signal from his trip that this might be unconstitutional,” he said.

In response, Cusi argued that pursuing the nuclear program agenda is part of the DOE’s mandate to look at possible sources of energy as part of its energy security plan. Cusi also defended the budget for the nuclear program saying In order to be able to craft a national policy on nuclear program, they need money to hire consultants and experts to undertake such studies.

When asked on the general sentiment of the public toward the government’s nuclear program agenda, Cusi declined to comment on the acceptability of the nuclear power plant, saying the department has yet to submit its report to the president.

To which Gatchalian told Cusi: “I think the more transparency we show the public, the more confidence that we build.”

“Right now, even me, to be honest about it, on-the-need-to-know basis lang ang nakukuha ko. So, if I don’t make a request, hindi ko malalaman. Kaya kapag tinanong din ako, I don’t know what to answer,” Gatchalian said.

The lawmaker from Valenzuela also asked the DOE to submit a breakdown on how the department spent the ₱48 million budget allocated to the nuclear program for fiscal year 2019 and another breakdown on how the DOE would spend the ₱97 million budget it allocated for fiscal year 2020.

“Right now, we don’t have a signal form the President on whether to go or not to go. And yet, we are undertaking more studies. What I would like to see is a detailed discussion on where the 48 million was spent,” Gatchalian said.

“Nuclear power is a very controversial source of power. To be honest about it, we cannot cloak it in secrecy or else, the more the public will doubt us,” he added.

Russian media earlier reported last week that Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation had offered to build a nuclear station in the Philippines.

President Duterte, for his part, confirmed news reports that among the business agreements signed during his state visit in Russia is the possible construction of floating nuclear power plants in the country. However, Duterte admitted that he was unsure whether the deal was constitutional or not.