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Editorial

Menace to public safety

/ 09:12 AM April 28, 2019

Cutting corners have consequences. In their desire to make more money by cutting costs, some people resort to the use of substandard materials in their buildings and other infrastructure. There will always be a reckoning for their actions.

The earthquake last week proved this. A four-story building in Porac, Pampanga, collapsed, killing more than a dozen people and injuring many others. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) had commented that the collapsed building was “structurally unsound.” Herein lies the root of the problem: Substandard steel products proliferate, especially in the provinces.

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Time and again, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has warned the public against the use of substandard materials. Earlier this month, the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute (Pisi) reported that it found some substandard steel bars being sold in hardware stores in Baguio, Benguet and other northern Luzon provinces.

Pisi filed a report with the DTI that the substandard concrete reinforcing steel bars, commonly referred to as rebars, were used mainly to build houses. Pisi said the Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC) already confirmed the proliferation of substandard rebars in those areas; many of the materials were found to be underweight, undersized or with low elongation, and were therefore unsafe to use. Pisi is the organization recognized by the government as representing the country’s iron and steel industry.

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Last January, Pisi reported that substandard rebars were being “openly sold” in some provinces in southern Luzon at the risk of consumer safety. Pisi said its “test buy” operations in the area flagged several hardware stores in Laguna, Cavite, Batangas and Occidental Mindoro. The steel bars bought by Pisi were submitted to the MIRDC, where these were tested against the requirements of existing national standards.

In March last year, substandard rebars were already found being sold in some provinces in Central Luzon, including Pampanga. Pisi had written the DTI as early as then to ask the government to conduct market monitoring and standards enforcement in Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. The group also recommended the filing of charges against local manufacturers and hardware store owners selling inferior steel bars. Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez promised then that the DTI would tighten its market monitoring and apprehension of retailers, importers and manufacturers of substandard rebars, adding that the agency would continue to carry out its confiscation of low-grade steel bars to prevent them from reaching consumers. Has this promised enforcement happened?

It is time for government agencies responsible to stop the proliferation of substandard construction materials, and for businesses to be made accountable for the continued sale of these low-grade products. There are also reports of substandard cement being sold in the provinces.

Why can’t the DTI, in coordination with local government units (LGUs), immediately close down hardware stores found selling substandard steel products and cement? Why can’t the Bureau of Customs also flag down incoming shipments of substandard steel and cement?

In November last year, the Makati Regional Trial Court barred the release of imported steel that had not been inspected and certified by the Bureau of Product Standards. This move can be made into a permanent policy to prevent the entry of cheap but unsafe steel and products into the country. At the same time, why can’t LGUs be more strict in their inspection of buildings, to check whether these have complied with the required standards?

A nationwide market monitoring and standards enforcement campaign, and the filing of cases against erring hardware store owners and local manufacturers, is long overdue, and has become even more urgent in light of concerns over damage resulting from earthquakes and other disasters.

The greedy traders or businessmen seeking to cut costs at the expense of the safety of their consumers or the public are a menace that the government needs to address now.

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Meanwhile, the public is well advised to stay away from substandard building products, and report establishments that continue to sell them.

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TAGS: Department of Trade and Industry, DTI, earthquake damage, Inquirer editorial, Public Safety, substandard construction, substandard rebars
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