Lawmakers and a consumer group have criticized anew the government’s slow pace in preventing the recurrence of the disaster that flattened a four-story supermarket in Porac, Pampanga on April 22.
“Four months have passed since the tragic collapse of the Chuzon supermarket after a 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the province,” former Senator Nikki Coseteng said.
“Until now, despite the fact that Chuzon was only four stories high, and clear evidence of substandard steel rebars were found by investigators on site, no findings, or solutions against future stronger quakes, have been released by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the local government unit,” Coseteng said.
Strong quakes also rocked Java island in Indonesia, northern Philippines and Mindanao recently, while the Metro Manila Development Authority held “shake drills” ostensibly to keep the people of Metro Manila ready in case of a magnitude-7.2 earthquake.
Dubbed the “Big One”, it is feared that the killer temblor may hit any time the West Valley Fault, which runs from Bulacan, across Metro Manila, to Cavite and Laguna.
Coseteng said the Department of Interior and Local Government, instead of coming up with preventive preparations to mitigate the impact of the big one, is focusing on “reactive drills.”
CCTV footage of the Chuzon collapse showed the four-story supermarket crumbling in seconds, killing dozens of shoppers and employees trapped inside.
Coseteng said steel rebars made by a local steel manufacturer were positively identified and photographed at the Chuzon site, but the Bureau of Products Standards of the Department of Trade and Industry was strangely silent.
The BPS-DTI and steel manufacturers insist that steel rebars used in both high-rise and low-rise buildings are properly tested, while the DPWH and DILG have yet to make a list of concrete buildings at risk of collapsing in a major quake.
An informal analysis released by the Consumers Union of the Philippines found that there could be several hundreds—many of them residential condominiums and offices.
By the most conservative estimate by the CUP, as many as 100 of these buildings in Metro Manila would be destroyed, exposing thousands to injury or death.
CUP president Rodel Taton said this would affect property valuations for both low and high-rise buildings, and impact buyers of condominiums and office spaces.
“Now is the time to work on concrete safety measures to help curb the devastating effects of a strong earthquake,” Coseteng said. “Specifically, with all these quakes happening all around us, the government should seriously investigate allegations of continued selling of substandard construction materials by big steel.”
According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the 100-kilometer West Valley fault could produce a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that could kill 37,000 people in an instant, injure 604,000 persons and cause an estimated damage of P2.4 trillion to buildings.
Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza announced he would call for a congressional inquiry on a study that reportedly found that substandard steel bars were being used in the construction of some high-rise commercial and residential buildings in the country.
The study, prepared by engineer Emilio Morales, former chairman of the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines, said substandard materials were being used in the construction of many buildings in Metro Manila and other urban centers which would not be able to withstand a magnitude-7.2 earthquake.
Taton said big steel manufacturers were making a windfall by replacing micro-alloyed steel rebars with quenched tempered steel – which is used to build hundreds of high rise structures throughout the country – without the knowledge of contractors, developers and various construction end-users.
Taton claimed that local steelmakers were 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 said.
Agham party-list also released a statement urging the DTI and the 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 strikes.
“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 party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones.
Palmones expressed doubts about the use of QT, or “thermo-mechanically treated” 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.