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Marcos vows to bring nuclear power to the Philippines

Election front-runner would continue Duterte’s conciliatory stance on China

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, is planning to bring nuclear power to the country should he maintain his wide lead in the polls and win the May 9 presidential election.

“Our vision for the country is to have at least one nuclear power plant so we can finally produce cheap energy and for us to lower our electricity rates,” Marcos and his running mate, Sara Duterte, daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, said in a joint statement in March. An executive order signed by Duterte to promote nuclear power generation is “a good springboard for the next administration to pursue its nuclear energy objectives,” the pair stressed.

The statement was followed by an exchange of memorandums between senior Philippine and U.S. officials to promote the two countries’ cooperation in the use of nuclear energy. In 2020, the Philippines banned the construction of new coal-fired power plants to promote decarbonization. The country will also seek to improve its balance of payments by reducing imports of crude oil, for which prices are surging.

Nuclear power generation is an ardent wish of the Marcos family. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was built to the west of Manila by American and other companies during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. But it never went into operation and was mothballed in 1986 as a result of political upheaval and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

If Marcos is elected, there is a possibility that his government will seek to renovate the Bataan plant.

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Morong town, Bataan province, Philippines  in 2016.    © Reuters

Running with Sara Duterte, the daughter of the current leader, as a vice presidential candidate, Marcos is gaining widespread public support. A Pulse Asia survey, conducted in March and released on April 6, gave Marcos a score of 56% support, followed by Vice President Leni Robredo at 24% — a narrower gap than in the previous survey. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno scored 8% and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao got 6%.

More than 270 university professors and other notable people have voiced support for Robredo because of their opposition to Duterte’s iron-fist leadership. The Moreno camp is striving to win support from voters uncounted in opinion polls, citing the presence of a silent majority such as the impoverished.

A Marcos government would also likely maintain Duterte’s conciliatory stance on China, and continue the incumbent’s war on drugs.

Marcos holds this stance on China in spite of the territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea. China has reclaimed and militarized artificial islands in the strategic waterway, and, though an international tribunal ruled in 2016 that its claims have no legal basis, Beijing rejects the ruling.

The election front-runner also appreciates the incumbent president’s policy of attaching importance to the Philippines’ economic relations with China. He met the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines in Manila when he filed in October to run for president.

Other candidates, such Robredo and Pacquiao, call for vigilance on China and have criticized Marcos’ conciliatory stance. Robredo points to The Hague Tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea as the foundation for calls for international cooperation to block China’s territorial claims. To settle the territorial dispute, Pacquiao has proposed the creation of an intergovernmental panel to discuss peace.

On the drug war, which has been criticized by foreign countries as violating human rights, Marcos said he will take a different approach to Duterte, such as promoting education on the health hazards of narcotics.

Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos gives her Ferdinand Marco Jr. a spoon of cake during her 73rd birthday celebration in an upscale venue in Manila on July 2, 2002.    © Reuters

The late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was president for about 20 years until 1986. He fled into exile after “People Power” demonstrations by a huge number of citizens, who took to the streets to call for his resignation the same year.

Marcos Sr.’s autocratic rule was notorious for corruption and human rights atrocities. The Marcoses and their cronies are accused of amassing up to $10 billion of ill-gotten wealth, a sizable portion of which is still being recovered by the government.

But many of today’s Filipino voters did not live through the Marcos dictatorship. More than 50% of current voters are aged 18 to 41 years, according to the nation’s election board. The dark image of the former president is not widely shared among voters, and many seem to feel a bond with Marcos Jr., who speaks to them via social media.

The younger Marcos has served both in the House of Representatives and Senate. The family name still lures support from middle-income and wealthy people in the northern part of the Philippines, with Metro Manila at the center.

Sara Duterte is the mayor of Davao, the main city on the southern Philippine city of Mindanao that is home to a majority of Filipino Muslims. In the Philippines, unlike the U.S., the president and vice president are elected separately. Marcos and Duterte, who is leading the vice presidential election race, often appear together at campaign rallies.

The Duterte and Marcos families began to deepen their relations several years ago. As a result, the presidential children have spread their circles of support across the country and maintained the lead in their races from the start.

Source: Nikkei Asia