General Santos City—The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission will look into possible irregularities in the construction of school buildings and related structures in public schools that were damaged during the recent series of major earthquakes in parts of Mindanao.
PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna said they were collaborating with various government agencies to determine problems with the structural integrity of the school buildings, especially those that were just newly built.
Luna said the investigation mainly covers public school-based structures in quake-hit localities in Soccsksargen (Region 12), North Cotabato, Davao Region (Region 11), and other areas as well.
Luna said they will look at the performance of the Department of Education in the implementation of the school building projects.
“More than a thousand school buildings have been affected, some have collapsed. So there may be problems with the design or the construction materials used,” he said in an interview with reporters at the Sultan Kudarat Provincial Capitol in Isulan town on Thursday afternoon.
Based on the assessment conducted by local government units in quake-affected areas, a significant number of classrooms and school buildings, including those newly constructed, sustained minor to severe damage following the strong earthquakes on Oct. 16, 29 and 31, the highest recorded at magnitude 6.6.
In Koronadal City alone, more than 140 school-based structures were earlier reported damaged due to the quakes, valued at more than P180 million.
Among those found with major damage were school buildings for Senior High Schools that were constructed in the past three years by the Department of Public Works and Highways.
Luna said they would determine whether there was negligence on the part of the implementing agencies involved in these projects.
“But we are not ready to rule that somebody must answer here or what, although we are not also ruling out the possibility [about that],” he said.
Luna said the PACC, which has launched a fact-finding investigation into the proliferation of sub-standard steel and cement in the country, was looking at the situation “from an open mind perspective.”
“Above the accountability side, we are also concerned about the policy aspect, especially measures that will strengthen the monitoring and enforcement against the production, as well as the distribution of sub-standard steel and cement,” he said.
In Kidapawan City, Luna's team met with various regional and provincial heads of government agencies, where the PACC identified public government schools as “second to the top” among the structures that have collapsed in the series of earthquakes last month.
“School buildings trailed public buildings in most structures damaged by the quakes. How come?” he asked during the meeting held at the City Hall here.
Luna said they have to validate reports reaching them on the substandard construction materials, such as steel bars and cement, which have slipped into the country through importation, as it poses a continuing danger to the public.
“With this, the President has ordered an investigation and the Senate will soon do the same,” he said, adding that he saw the substandard building materials.
Engineer Basir Ibrahim, director of DPWH 12 (Soccsksargen), noted that following the episodes of earthquakes, they have immediately checked on roads and bridges for relief assistance to flow in with ease into the affected areas.
Ibrahim added that they have yet to complete their assessment on damaged school buildings, as classes were ongoing in many other educational institutions across the region.
Meanwhile, Psalmer Bernalte, Kidapawan disaster management officer, reported before the PACC team about the existence of unscrupulous hollow block makers in the city producing inferior hollow blocks.
“According to our investigation, dishonest hollow block firm owners require workers to produce 100 pieces of hollow blocks from a single bag of cement when mixed with sand, making it cheap for clients,” Bernalte said.
The DPWH-12 said that the standard combination of sand and per bag of cement should only produce 40 to 45 pieces of hollow blocks. Ibrahim has suggested that the Department of Trade and Industry should look into the matter for quality control.
Luna said the substandard hollow block problem has currently become a “national issue” as it has also been recently tackled in their meeting with concerned national government offices.
“We need to recommend tighter measures on these matters. No more excuses,” he said.
The Office of Civil Defense 12 said 217,920 affected individuals were in 37 evacuation centers scattered in quake-affected zones in North Cotabato.
Luna said they were looking forward to completing their investigation on the substandard construction materials by February next year.
He said that the agency's report would be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for appropriate action.