House leaders seek corruption-free building inspection

TWO House leaders yesterday sought a corruption-free audit of the structural integrity of various structures to ensure public safety even during major earthquakes.

Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez and Quezon City Rep. Winston “Winnie” Castelo made the call following reports that some high-rise buildings used “ampaw” or substandard construction materials, especially steel bars.

They asked the concerned government agencies led by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to address the questionable testing or mislabeling of steel bars by some manufacturers.

Benitez and Castelo said the DTI and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should start reviewing manufacturing practices adopted by some large local steelmakers, which are reportedly profit-driven, jeopardizing public safety.

“There should be a thorough evaluation of all high-rise buildings to ensure that these are structurally sound and are not at risk should a catastrophic earthquake hit us in the future,” said Benitez, who chairs the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development.

Benitez called on the DTI, DPWH, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs), and local government units to spearhead the audit  “as a first step to ensure the integrity of these structures.“

Castelo, chairman of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, recommended the filing of charges against contractors, and buildings owners, as well as manufacturers who are using substandard construction materials such as steel bars and cement.

“We should seriously look into the use of substandard construction materials, especially steel products that were mislabeled,” said Castelo.

“These products are a danger to life in our earthquake-prone country. In the event of a high magnitude earthquake, mislabeled and sub-standard steel materials can cause the foundations of buildings to crumble as they cannot withstand the pressure, and are not made for that type of building construction,” Castelo said.

Steelmakers, represented by engineer Roberto Cola of the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute (PISI), defended their current testing procedures, saying their products had been tested, in coordination with the DTI, thus vouching for their use in high-rise buildings.

Reports said that a questionable testing process is being implemented in the industry by falsely upgrading or mislabeling the grade of steel bars to determine its tensile strength.

Testing steel bars for tensile strength is important to determine if the steel can withstand high magnitudes from natural disasters.

Benitez and Castelo said government agencies with proven expertise in engineering and construction should conduct a no-holds barred investigation into questionable manufacturing process of local steelmakers to ensure products they produce meet international standard and can withstand high magnitude temblor.

They underscored the need to strengthen the current testing processes for steel bars by the DTI and ramp them up to international standards since these may not be safe to use in earthquake prone areas like the Philippines.

Over half of the buildings in Metro Manila, particularly those located in the central business districts (CBDs) of Makati, Bonifaco Global City, Ortigas, Mandaluyong and Quezon City, including government infrastructures such as airports and mass transport facilities, were constructed during the property boom over the past decade.