The drive to ensure that the local construction industry does not build infrastructure that would be unsafe in the event of a high intensity earthquake, gained momentum last week as a consumer group and technology-based party list called on the government to investigate allegations of continued selling of substandard construction materials.
Atty. Rodel Taton, president of Consumers Union of the Philippines (CUP), revealed Tuesday that big steel manufacturers have been replacing micro-alloyed (MA) steel rebars with quenched tempered (QT) steel ones, used to build hundreds of high rise structures throughout the country—without the knowledge of contractors, developers and various construction end-users.
The AGHAM (Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan) likewise released a statement midweek urging the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), to coordinate in ensuring that buildings, particularly high-rise structures, all over the Philippines, are not prone to collapse in case a high intensity earthquake (“The Big One”) strikes.
Thousands of lives threatened
“The geographical location of the Philippines is the main reason why certain types of steel materials are not recommended for use in high-rise buildings,” said AGHAM partylist representative Angelo Palmones, in a local radio program yesterday.
“We are concerned that steel being used to build thousands of high rise structures in the country, are compromised, putting the lives of thousands of Filipinos at risk,” the lawmaker said. “These substandard construction materials, particularly reinforcement bars (rebars), would not withstand a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.”
Palmones expressed doubts about the use of QT, or “thermo-mechanically treated” (TMT) steel bars as reinforcing in high-rise buildings. These products, he said, are potentially threatening tens of thousands of lives due to their premature catastrophic failure under “cyclic loading” generated by earthquakes.
AGHAM decried “the elevated risk which has been forced onto Filipinos by the country’s steel manufacturers who 12 years ago changed the steel bar manufacturing process without notifying the government, or public.”
Profit over lives
Taton revealed that local steelmakers are making as much as P1.5 per kilogram by switching from the manufacture of MA to comparatively cheaper QT steel rebars.
“In return for this profit, these companies are risking the lives of many people who live in condominiums, work in high rise offices, and use government and private sector infrastructure that have been built using substandard steel,” he claimed.
Palmones decried the suspected connivance between government officials, particularly those in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Product Standard (BPS) to create a smokescreen in covering the real dangers rebars made out of QT process.
He explained that steel manufacturers should not be making and deciding what regulations to develop, and what standards and tests must be conducted.
“We at AGHAM strongly feel that appointing officials with vested interests can comprise the safety standards in the country, and put the lives of those living in high rises, and all infrastructure projects in mortal danger.
Need for steel testing center
The two groups called for the establishment of a cyclic loading facility in the Philippines to ensure the appropriate implementation of stringent testing standards for steel in the Philippines, a known high seismic risk country.
But according to Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC)–Department of Science and Technology (DoST), deputy executive director Agustin Fudolig, it would be hard for them to justify the cost of building a P50 million cyclic loading facility.
“There will be no clear return on investments (ROI), since only large steel makers will be the main clients of the facility,” Fudolig said during a recent TV interview.
In China and Taiwan, the use of QT bars have been banned since last year. In the Philippines, Palmones said the alleged P400-billion yearly income from the manufacture of quench-tempered rebars, has ostensibly become an attractive incentive for big steel manufacturers.
“It is a lot cheaper to manufacture quench-tempered rebars than micro-alloyed steel ones, but it comes at the expense of people’s lives,” he pointed out.