That was a most compelling photo on the front page of Monday’s Philippine Daily Inquirer. Hundreds of people seated on the grassy grounds of the Sunken Garden in University of the Philippines, Diliman, forming the words “No to BNPP,” their graphic way of declaring their objections to the re-opening of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
The measure is currently being debated in the House appropriations committee, after it passed the committee on energy headed by Rep. Mikey Arroyo. Main sponsor Rep. Mark Cojuangco has argued that the only way to stop climate change and achieve energy security in this country is through nuclear power.
Speaking of the human graphic, which the group helped organize, the Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigns manager for the Philippines, Beau Baconguis, said it was “a statement of the people’s opposition to the revival of the BNPP. Congressman Cojuangco’s plans to ‘validate’ with the purpose of reviving, and commissioning, this nuclear plant is the height of irresponsibility and arrogance. The BNPP was mothballed for safety reasons which today still remain undisputed by any expert or study.”
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And if anyone has reason to fear the presence of an operational nuclear power plant, that would be the people living near it, who would arguably be the first to feel the effects — including being killed — as a result of any accident, mishap or neglect involved in running the plant.
Yesterday, residents of Bataan, among them members of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy, took part in a rally against the plant’s reopening. The march and rally drew various sectors from all corners of Bataan, among them youth and parish delegations and civil society groups, converging at the Balanga Cathedral.
Among the invited speakers were Msgr. Tony Dumaual who was parish priest of Morong, Bataan, where the BNPP is located, in the 1970s when construction on the power plant began. Dr. Nicanor Perlas, who headed the presidential commission tasked to investigate the safety standards of the nuclear power plant in the 1980s, was also invited.
If the intent is to delay or reverse the effects of global warming, then reviving the BNPP makes little sense, avers Green Peace. Said Baconguis: “Our congressmen must face the simple, indisputable facts: 1) Nuclear power is the most dangerous way to generate electricity, there is also no known scientific solution to safely storing plutonium and its deadly radioactive waste-product which remains radiotoxic for 200,000 years; 2) it is the most expensive source of power: aside from pricey construction costs, nuclear power involves expenses for decommissioning, as well as storage for nuclear waste, each of which can cost as much as a new power plant; 3) it cannot solve climate change — the contribution it can potentially make is negligible, especially if you consider that the processing of uranium as fuel uses so much electricity; and 4) importing more fuel, in this case uranium, is not the way to achieve energy security.”
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Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has been quoted as saying that he “had always been pro-life” and that he would only support so-called “artificial methods” of family planning “as long as it will not destroy life.”
The Senate president was referring to recent developments in the ongoing committee deliberations on the Reproductive Health Bill, with the representative of the bishops angrily walking out of a recent technical working group meeting. The House version of the bill has already been reported out of committee but faces a very long queue of interpellators who are bent on wasting the time of legislators rather than shedding more light on the measure.
Enrile was perhaps referring to the contention of some conservative groups that some methods of contraception are actually “abortifacients,” that is, they induce abortion. There is a clash of opinion on this matter, based on one’s belief on when “life” begins. The religious right insists that life begins the moment sperm and egg meet. The scientific community, though, considers a pregnancy “viable” only when the fertilized ovum successfully implants itself in the wall of the uterus.
I find myself agreeing with the evidence-based argument, for there is no way a fertilized ovum can develop into a fetus unless it is first implanted in the mother’s womb. We must also contend with the large numbers of fertilized ova that do not develop further, most probably because they were “blighted” from the start. And what do we do about ectopic pregnancies, a condition that endangers the mother’s health when the fertilized ovum stops its journey to the uterus and remains in the fallopian tube?
A woman I met recently told me about the time she had an ectopic pregnancy and her doctor opted to wait until the zygote grew big enough to threaten her life before she was operated on. Was it part of the doctor’s “ethics” and “conscience” to put her patient in peril because of her qualms about excising “live” tissue?
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But while conservative forces and their allies dither about the fate of fertilized ova, women are dying by the hundreds each year in this country as a result of getting pregnant or while giving birth. In a policy outlining new guidelines for maternal and newborn care, the Department of Health said one of the factors that put mothers and babies at risk is that of “having mistimed, unplanned, unwanted and unsupported pregnancy.” A healthy pregnancy and safe delivery actually begin with choice, with the free decision of a woman to get pregnant given her ability to look after herself and the baby sheltering in her womb.
But when policies withhold contraceptives from the women who most need these, then the policies could only result in more women “dying to give life.”