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Maintenance—or the lack of it

/ 03:12 AM September 25, 2014

As an engineer, I consider maintaining things and looking after tools almost close to God in importance. It seems to me that far too many Filipinos do not. This may seem an “unfair” statement, but it comes from 40 years of experience, three factories managed, a private resort maintained, a household to look after, and much discussion with others.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built in 1932, or 82 years ago. It’s built of steel, but it’s still there because it’s maintained—painted regularly, deteriorating parts replaced. I venture to say there is not one steel bridge in the Philippines that has lasted anywhere near as long.

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What triggered this complaint (and it is a complaint; it drives me mad trying to get people to look after things) is the story of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3. It’s in dreadful shape today because it hasn’t been maintained. Such maintenance includes replacing not just old and broken parts but also carriages in toto as they age. So, apart from the inconveniences caused, accidents happen. These are accidents that wouldn’t have happened if proper, regular maintenance was done.

Because of poor maintenance, MRT accidents have become part of the commuting public’s daily grind. MRT coaches get detached and stalled. Some run even with the door still open, and there have been a number of instances when coaches suddenly stop, injuring passengers. One of the worst accidents took place on Aug, 13, when one of the trains overshot its track and slammed through a steel barricade at the Taft Avenue Station. The two drivers of the trains that got uncoupled were blamed for it. But I’d bet that was only a part (if any) of it; poor maintenance almost certainly added to the failure.

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These train accidents are a normal occurrence for the more than 500,000 daily commuters.

Far too often interisland ships get into trouble at sea, and even sink, because they are not properly maintained. As a lifelong sailor I’m well aware of the sea’s corrosive nature and the even greater need to maintain a ship and its facilities scrupulously, daily. Lives are lost because owners scrimp on maintenance. They see it as an unnecessary cost, but it’s an essential cost-saver. Look after things and they last longer—and you save lives. It’s a total mystery to me how Sulpicio Lines (or whatever it calls itself now) is allowed to exist after the deaths of more than 5,000 passengers in its ships over the years. The company’s far from desirable record in terms of maritime safety can primarily be attributed to irresponsible management and poor maintenance.

As we’ve seen in all the articles on power, power plants have to be shut down on a regular schedule if they’re to be kept running. Here, necessity has overcome any inherent reluctance to maintain them. As the private buyers of the previously publicly owned power plants will tell you, the government skimped on maintenance. There was a large initial cost to just bring the plants back to standard.

The standard color of steel roofs in the Philippines is brown: the color of rust. It’s because you have to pay for paint, but paint is cheap. It protects you from having to buy new sheets after just a few years. Paint is a great protector if properly applied and reapplied every few years. It’s a principal reason the Sydney Harbour Bridge still stands. It’s a reason the Lumban steel bridge in Laguna doesn’t. It wasn’t painted, it collapsed, a cement bridge replaced it. Cement doesn’t need much maintenance, but not everything can be made of cement, in fact very little—roads, bridges, buildings, and not much else.

To be fair, there are many factories that are well-maintained (but just as many that aren’t), and other examples all over. But they are the exception when considered within the context of nationwide activity.

I suggest maintenance is as necessary a course in school as almost any other. It doesn’t have to be a long course; a few units would do it. But creating awareness of the benefits of looking after things would much improve how we live. And that includes caring for tools—cleaning them after use, putting them back at the end of the job. Also using the right ones, and never using pieces of wire to hold things together (that’s a recipe for eventual disaster).

What amuses me is that there’s no Tagalog word for “maintenance.” And with the deterioration of English, how can you do it if you can’t say it?

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* * *

The Commission on Elections can learn a lot from Scotland, but I wonder if it will. It doesn’t seem so at this stage.

Let’s look at a few Scottish facts: a turnout of 85 percent in a voluntary election; only 3,429 spoiled/invalid votes; a result in 10 HOURS. And it was a MANUAL exercise. The number of deaths: ZERO.

Now I know it was only 4.28 million voters, not even a tenth of the total registered voters in the Philippines (more than 52 million). But that doesn’t excuse the Comelec. Gus Lagman was the only one in the board (he was kicked out because he talked too much sense) who was IT-literate, yet he urged strongly that manual counting be maintained at the polls, with automation introduced only in the transmission and collation. Gus made great sense, and the Scotland experience proved him right. The Comelec has chosen to ignore what makes great sense.

As for politicians, they can learn, too. The loser (proindependence leader and First Minister Alex Salmond) immediately acknowledged the result and pledged full support to the winner, in a most statesmanlike manner. He eventually resigned, Great credit should go to him.

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TAGS: Commission on Elections, Gus Lagman, Lumban steel bridge, metro rail transit, MRT-3, Scotland, Sulpicio Lines, Sydney Harbour Bridge
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