Recto: Don't use Malampaya funds for Bataan nuke plant revival

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto cautioned against the use of the P188-billion unspent government share from the Malampaya gas field and other energy projects to fund the proposed revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

There "should be no funding pipeline from Malampaya to the Bataan plant," said Recto in a statement on Monday, November 21.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier gave the go signal to revive the $2.3-billion nuclear power plant, which was completed 32 years ago but never produced electricity due to safety concerns.

Built during the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the 620-megawatt plant was never switched on because of its proximity to earthquake fault lines and an active volcano.

But Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi was quoted last November 12 as saying that Duterte gave him the green light to reactivate the mothballed facility, as long as all safety and security aspects of operating it are covered.

"He raised his concerns, and I gave him the assurance that we would not do it recklessly," Cusi said.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has a proposed budget of P1.1 billion for 2017. 

But under a special provision in next year's budget, the DOE is allowed to tap P1.52 billion in off-budget, which accounts for "energy resource development and exploitation programs."

This would allow the department to tap unused government funds from the Malampaya gas field off northern Palawan.

'Conduct a study first'

But for Recto, the Malampaya funds can instead be used "to partially finance an independent scientific study on the economic and technical feasibility of completing the plant."

"Maaring hanggang study lang (This may be used for conducting a study only). But not restarting. Even using the funds to study its viability ay dapat suriing mabuti (should be reviewed carefully)," he said. 

The Malampaya royalties fund posted an outstanding balance of P182.29 billion as of June 22 this year.

By the end of 2016, Malampaya remittances are projected to hit P34.7 billion.

But the total amount of revenues from all projects is P188 billion, according to national budget documents for 2017. 

That amount is kept in trust and is treated as an "off-budget" item.

Recto had earlier said that the decision to pursue the nuclear power plant rehabilitation must come from scientists, "based on an unassailable study whose conclusion is that a dead plant can be safely resurrected beyond reasonable doubt."

"It should be a science-based decision, and not because someone has a 'light bulb' moment and then immediately orders that the plant be switched on," he said. (READ: Consult scientists on Bataan Nuclear Power Plant – Recto)

In addition to independent safety checks, Recto said an economic study is also needed.

The senator said the Philippines had paid almost P70 billion for an "overpriced plant" that never produced a single watt of electricity.

He added that a special provision barring the use of accumulated state energy revenues from financing the reconstruction of the over 30-year-old facility can be written into the budget of the DOE. – Rappler.com