The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant symbolized the corruption and excesses of the Marcos dictatorship. The Arroyo administration is now trying to revive it. But those who participated in the 1985 “welgang bayan” that helped shut down the plant are reviving the passion and spirit of that landmark protest to oppose the present regime’s plan.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
BATAAN, the Philippines – Sister Guada Valdes OSB remembered what it was like 24 years ago.
The protesters had come from all over — Tarlac, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Manila and Bataan — and converged in this province to launch what was called a “welgang bayan” (people’s protest) against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
It was one of the largest public demonstrations against the Marcos regime and one that protesters today are trying to replicate as they oppose the move to revive the mothballed plant, a white elephant that came to symbolize the corruption and the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship.
Sister Guada joined the “welgang bayan” and she was struck by how ordinary residents in the province and in Morong, where the plant is located, joined and supported the cause. “They gave us food and water. They even offered whatever they had that we might possibly need,” the nun recalled.
The protesters were determined. They formed a human barricade that prevented vehicles from passing through, except ambulances. “We never felt tired,” Sister Guada said.
Noli Anoos was still a working student at Miriam College when he participated in the “welgang bayan.” Anoos said his experience during those three days, when they marched toward Morong, was exhilarating, not mention dangerous.
“I was not heading any organization then. I only had myself to think about,” said Anoos, who is now president of the All UP Workers’ Union. “I wanted to make sure that my future family would not suffer from the harmful effects of the nuclear power plant.”
Holding protest marches during the dictatorship was very dangerous, Anoos said. “I remember how military troops and firefighters blocked our way even before we reached the power plant.”
Sister Guada told Bulatlat that in one of the clashes between the military and the protesters, she blocked an army truck and told military officers: “Do not dare continue what you are about to do. The people of the Church are here to promote life, not to die.” It was enough to calm the soldiers down.
Last week, Anoos and Sister Guada joined other protesters — a network of environmentalists, health workers, laborers, peasants and church leaders — as they trooped again to Bataan, specifically to the town of Balanga, not just to relive history but to oppose the move by the administration to revive the plant.
As the speakers lambasted the planned revival of the BNPP, the throng who participated in the interfaith rally in front of the Church of Balanga nodded in agreement, clapped their hands and chanted calls against the BNPP, as well as the charter-change maneuvers of the Arroyo regime. More than a hundred protesters filled the street in front of the church.
Sitting on the steps in front of the church was an old man who was watching the program from afar. Reynato Magpok joined last week’s march – and he complained about the old age that has caught up with him. He was resting after the 30-minute march in the town.
“It must be the age that has caused me to tire easily,” Magpok, a 50-year-old farmer from Orion town, told Bulatlat. He was supposed to be in his rice fields that day but he decided to join the march – as he did 25 years ago – because the same fear he had in 1985 is now being resurrected.