By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday urged Department of Energy (DOE) officials to be more transparent regarding its nuclear energy program agenda given the fact that nuclear power is a very controversial source of power.
Gatchalian made the call during the hearing on the DOE’s proposed ₱97-million budget allocation for the country’s nuclear program agenda where he inquired about the supposed deal between Philippines and Russia on the possible construction of a nuclear power plant in the country. The DOE’s over-all proposed budget for 2020 is P2.3-billion.
During the hearing, Gatchalian asked Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi on whether the DOE 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. Right now, there seems to be no direction. If there’s no direction, does that mean do we still pursue or is that a tacit signal to pursue?” Gatchalian asked.
Gatchalian also asked if pursuing a nuclear program would violate the Constitution, and warned that allocating funds may be rendered useless if they fail to get the President’s approval.
“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.
Cusi, however, 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.
The Energy chief also defended the budget for the nuclear program saying that 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.
Asked about the general sentiment of the public toward the government’s nuclear program agenda, Cusi declined to comment saying the DOE has yet to submit its report to the President.
To which Gatchalian responded: “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.
This also prompted the lawmaker to ask the DOE to submit a breakdown on how the agency spent the ₱48-million budget allocated to the nuclear program for 2019 and the breakdown on how the DOE would spend the ₱97-million budget 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 P48-million was spent,” he stressed.
“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.
Following President Duterte’s state visit in Russia, media reports disclosed that Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation had offered to build a nuclear station in the Philippines
Durterte confirmed the report and said 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 is unsure whether the deal is constitutional or not.