Two congressmen expressed support recently for calls in the House of Representatives to look into the reported rampant smuggling of raw materials used to make steel rebars, as well as the alleged connivance between officials of the Bureau of Customs (BoC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and local manufacturers to misrepresent, and sell structurally-compromised steel in the country.
Speaking to the media during the South East Asian Games hosted by the Philippines, Congressmen Manny Lopez (1st district of Manila) noted with alarm that should a big earthquake hit the major fault lines in the Philippine capital, large portions of Metro Manila where high rise and government infrastructure are standing, would be directly affected.
“We cannot compromise pubic safety following the deaths and destruction due to the strong earthquake hat hit Bukidnon, Cotabato, Maguindanao and Davao this week, and the series of strong tremors that preceded it in October and November,” the Tondo solon said.
Karlo Nograles (1st district of Davao) Nograles lauded the vigilance of his House colleagues, and said he is adding his voice in support of the probe “to assure the structural integrity of various high-rise structures in the country which may have been built using weak steel.”
Last month, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano backed House Bill 379, filed by Rep. Lemuel H. Fortun, which detailed the alleged corrupt practices in the industry, in to ensure the safety of the public after the series of earthquakes that hit Mindanao in October and November.
High rise structures in danger
The House Committee on Trade and Industry announced its investigation in late October following the quakes in Mindanao that claimed over 20 lives, and to verify allegations of technical smuggling, or under-valuation, of steel billets used to manufacture quenched tempered (QT) steel rebars in the Philippines, due to the “collusion between large steelmakers and officials of the DTI and BoC.”
Fortun, whose province, Agusan del Norte, was badly hit by a series of shocks over the last two months, urged the committee to look into the alleged connivance between the government and the biggest big steel manufacturer in the country, which is reportedly headed by a former undersecretary of the DTI.
Fortun’s resolution was anchored on fears expressed by real estate developers and construction builders, as well as consumer groups — specifically buyers of high rise condominiums all over the country — over reports of continued selling of QT rebars by big steel manufacturers, that may render thousands of high rise structures unsafe in the event of a high-intensity earthquake.
QT steel banned in earthquake-prone countries
Five countries were identified in the resolution to have banned QT steel when its government regulators discovered, through stringent testing processes, that QT steel is only strong on the outer layer due to a structurally-compromising quenching process.
Like the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and US are located in highly seismic zones.
Fortun charged that the DTI has been certifying QT steel rebars to be Grade 60 when they are only Grade 40.
Grade 40 steel rebars are used only for low-rise buildings. Most of the buildings that sustained massive damage during the successive quakes over the last two months in Mindanao have been high rise buildings.
“This deception may have led to the rise in the past 10 to 12 years of high rise buildings, including public infrastructure, in various urban centers in the country that may not be able to withstand high-intensity quakes, thus endangering the lives of millions of Filipinos,” Fortun revealed.
Speaker Cayetano vowed that the House would look into the steel smuggling issue, as well as misbranding of QT steel grades to fool the public, “and hold accountable whose who are behind this illegal activity.”
Ambushed by reporters just before the South East Asian Games in the Philippines, the speaker said the House will target “the deceitful selling” of structurally-compromised QT steel rebars in the country, which had replaced micro-alloyed steel rebars traditionally used in the construction industry.
Congressman Lopez, who acknowledged owning a Triple-A contracting business, said he supports a house hearing on the issue as soon as possible.
“The House is currently deciding which would be the most appropriate committee to conduct a hearing,” he said. “This to ensure a thorough investigation of the smuggling of steel billets and manufacture of steel rebars than can endanger the lives, not just of my constituents in Manila, but of millions of Filipinos.”
“The losers are the Filipino people when our regulatory agencies disregard the dangers of substandard construction materials that are being used to build their dream homes,” he pointed out.
Mindanao quakes, an eye-opener
Nograles stressed the urgency of addressing the mounting concerns of the real estate and construction sectors, and their customers, namely millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) who have been investing in the country’s booming property market, over the use of QT steel bars in high-rise buildings.
“Our biggest fear are the reports that these so-called QT steel bars were used in the construction of buildings and infrastructure buildings that collapsed during the strong earthquakes that in Mindanao recently,” he said.
“With the possibility of a bigger earthquake hitting the country in the future, it is crucial to get to the bottom of the alleged collusion between large steel manufacturers and certain government officials,” he said.