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Act now, save lives

“ Is the government taking concrete measures and actions to ensure we are ready when the “Big One” hits our land? Are the monthly quake drills enough to prepare us?

Joe Zaldarriaga

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Early morning last Thursday, I was woken up from dreamland in my condominium by a mild quake, which I learned from a text message from NDDRMC emanated in Jomalig, Quezon. The magnitude 5.5 quake was felt as far as Pasig City, but surely gave me a scare.

Fortunately, no casualty was reported in the recent Quezon quake unlike the two tremors that rocked central and eastern Mindanao, particularly Cotabato City and Kidapawan City, late last month. As of this writing, 28 were reportedly killed when the 6.5 magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a stronger 6.6 magnitude temblor the next day, jolted Mindanao.

The quake in Mindanao also resulted in hotels, condominiums and other buildings collapsing in Soccsksargen and the Davao regions, displacing more than 35,000 families and close to 180,000 persons.

In light of these fresh tremors, it is high time for the current administration to take a closer look into the socio-economic impact of the alarming and successive earth-shaking quakes that have recently destroyed key cities in Mindanao.

A colleague reacted on the recent Quezon quake and sent me a Viber message, saying it seems the quake is getting closer to Metro Manila. Is this a sign that the “Big One” is occurring soon, especially when we least expect it to come, like a thief in the night?

The crucial question concerned groups are asking: is the government taking concrete measures and actions to ensure we are ready when the “Big One” hits our land? Are the monthly quake drills enough to prepare us? Will the government continue to just wait for the “Big One” to strike before it acts to save thousands of lives?

There are clear indications that high-rises and buildings erected 10 years ago have weak infrastructure as proven by the collapse of a hotel in Davao last week, and the supermarket in Pampanga during the 6.1 magnitude quake last April. Reports said that substandard materials, particularly reinforcement bars (rebars), were used to construct these buildings.

If the reports are true, it’s about time for concerned government agencies to act to protect people’s lives. Contractors using substandard steel products must be stopped, including those supplying them the inferior rebars.

It is good to know that a group of legislators are pushing for an inquiry on the smuggling and proliferation of substandard steel products. I admire their guts to pursue this course to once and for all investigate the alleged collusion between large steelmakers and trade industry and Customs officials in allowing the entry of substandard steel products in the country.

The lawmakers want to get into the bottom and know why big steelmakers, without informing property developers and the general public, abruptly shifted to using quenched-tempered (QT) steel bars instead of micro-alloyed bars.

QT bars, according to the findings of a study by former Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines (ASEP) Engineer Emilio Morales, pose a big danger due to its non-ductile behavior under conditions that are typical in local construction practices.

Morales said QT bars are now banned in China, Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Due to the massive casualty as a result of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 69,000 people and injured close to 380,000, China implemented changes in the rebar regulations.

In their planned inquiry, the lawmakers want to know as well why the Trade department allowed the entry of QT bars when these are already banned in countries located in seismic zones, similar to where the Philippines is situated, or areas that are susceptible to earthquakes.

On the positive note, reports said the Bureau of Customs has started auditing big steel companies as it cracked down on undervalued steel importations amid reports of poor quality steel products being smuggled. This is in conjunction with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission’s (PACC) investigation where it reportedly found sufficient evidence to pin down those behind the alleged technical smuggling of billions worth of steel bars.

The investigation of both Congress and the PACC is timely. Southern Mindanao is still being hammered by successive earthquakes and aftershocks in the last two weeks. There are fears that “The Big One” could strike the country, and cause major casualties. Thus, there is an urgent need to ensure the structural integrity of high rises and commercial buildings.

I could not help but cringe at the fact that some of the structures in the country may not be and no longer be structurally ready for calamities like the recent strong quakes in Mindanao. It is sad and alarming to know that substandard materials continue to proliferate in the market, particularly steel products.

The government must have the political will to act now by punishing steel smugglers and tightening procedures to ensure that steel products in the market meet standards. This simple act will save lives of our people.

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