Filipinos protest against Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and U.S. military bases, 1983-1986


In July 1973, then-Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos announced the decision to build the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in response to the Philippines’ economic crisis at the time. The Middle East oil embargo was putting incredible stress on the Philippine economy. For the Marcos regime, investing in nuclear power was the solution to their dependence on imported oil and energy demands. However, Bataan residents and Philippine citizens responded in fierce opposition to the new plant due to its threat to public health.

In January 1981, Philippine environmentalists established the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC). The activists’ initial goal was to stop the construction and operation of BNPP. Under the organization of Lorenzo Martinez Tañada, a well-versed politician, the activists participated in a nationwide campaign utilizing lobbying, protest actions, media, and international solidarity.

Throughout the anti-BNPP campaign, the activists began to expand their goals to target the U.S. military bases as well. On October 26, 1983, over 200 protesters marched through Manila from the University of the Philippines to the U.S. Embassy, a trek of several miles. The total number of protesters at the Embassy was about 500. During this time, the activists also engaged in an anti-nuclear disarmament conference to rouse public opinion on the issue.

On June 13, 1984, approximately 2,000 activists rallied in front of the Embassy while burning an effigy of Uncle Sam, a symbol of the U.S. military. On October 6, about 2,000 activists burned an effigy of a skull in front of the Bataan Plant.

June 18, 1985, marked the beginning of a three-day protest called “Welgang Bayan Laban sa Plantang Nukleyar” (“People’s Strike”) in Balanga, the capital of Bataan. Then on June 20, approximately 33,000 activists and Filipino citizens from diverse walks of life participated in the largest protest action of the campaign. The action consisted of a march, rally, and a strike. This was the historic demonstration that forced the entire province of Bataan to stand still. Not only did it force the area to freeze, but it also mobilized 22 anti-nuclear organizations. During its climax it nearly immobilized the entire nation. On September 20, the activists protested in the Bataan Peninsula for two days. During this protest the New Peoples Army killed seven activists.

In April 1986, as a result of the pressure of NFPC activists, Philippine citizens, and the political climate following the ousting of the Marcos regime by the People Power Movement (see “Filipinos campaign to overthrow dictator (People Power), 1983-1986”), the BNPP was postponed for use by the succeeding administration of President Corazon Aquino in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

It is unclear when the demonstrations ceased; however, in 1991, the Philippine Senate decided to remove tenure from U.S. facilities in the Philippines. By 1992, most US facilities had withdrawn, leaving tons of toxic waste of which the anti-nuclear groups had to dispose.