Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, March 12, 2018

There’s growing sentiment that even if CJ Sereno survives the Senate impeachment trial, she should resign as the highest patriotic duty---if only to hasten healing of an institution now so torn apart by dissension and prejudice.

As I wrote earlier in a Facebook blurb, the impeachment case against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, predictably to be followed by trial in the Senate, promises to be the high drama of this season---as on the carpet will be the highest official of the third branch of government, the Judiciary. It’s something I do not view with eager anticipation, as there are folks who’d be terribly affected by it, such as the family of the Chief Justice  (I saw it up close in the distraught family of the late, much-loved Chief Justice Renato Corona). 

Moreover, expect the overwhelming attention of the nation to be glued again to this high drama--- to the detriment of other issues just as important.

There are those who---perhaps in an effort to avoid another soul-wrenching experience similar to the impeachment and conviction of the late CJ Corona nearly seven years ago---are asking CJ Sereno to resign now rather than teeter to the edge of a terrible crisis for her and the nation. Her detractors are throwing in everything they’ve got, including the unprecedented testimony of senior SC magistrates before the House Committee on Justice, about their chief’s supposed wrongdoings.  Never before had "the gods of Padre Faura” descended on Congress to rat publicly on a colleague, their chief. This has created waves of disbelief and disgust in some sectors.


This was followed by the rather malicious disclosure of a most confidential matter---the results of psychiatric tests run on Sereno as a serious candidate for the top SC post---a move assailed by members of the psychiatry profession themselves.  Subsequently, officials and rank and file employees of the SC have joined anti-Sereno demonstrations in Padre Faura, all of them wearing red.

But the lady chief is hanging tough.  In fact, in recent days she has asked the House of Representatives to quit delaying sending her case to the Senate for trial.  C’mon, bring it on now, CJ was quoted as daring in media, instead of folding her tent. She gives the impression of extreme confidence in exonerating herself, instead of looking pitifully scared.  


The Sereno impeachment is polarizing the nation unlike any current issue.  Yesterday morning, even as a group of lower-court magistrates joined the SC justices in calling for her resignation, former Sen. Rene Saguisag  asserted in his Inquirer column that CJ Sereno “cannot lose no matter how the Senate votes; by simply taking all the blows with grace and courage, she’s a winner already. If convicted she could only fall into the arms of the people.” Earlier, Inquirer columnist Solita  Monsod came out swinging for her too, and the newspaper bannered SC Justice Marvic Leonen’s lone stand against impeachment, vs. the condemning move of his colleagues. 

Already people are weighing in on both sides of this high drama with intensity.  There’s no denying, however, that with the perceived bullying of Sereno by the Duterte  administration, with whom she crossed swords over what she considered victims of its injustice, Lourdes Sereno is gaining sympathy by the day. Pinoys truly love the underdog. 


A few days ago the national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Atty. Abdiel Dan Fajardo, took issue with the quo warranto case filed by the Duterte administration’s chief lawyer, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, against Sereno. As the Latin term states, Calida questioned what authority warranted  Sereno’s appointment to the High Court’s helm by President Aquino five years ago, to replace convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona. The IBP president dismissed Calida's move as "a political act, not justiciable." One might add that this quo warranto argument is ridiculous, considering that Lourdes Sereno has been at SC's helm for over five years now.  

Last Sunday evening, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I invited the Dean of the Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law, wh also chairs the 126 member-Philippine Association of Law Schools, Ma. Soledad Mawis, to our regular dzRH program. Among the issues we focused on was Calida’s quo warranto case vs. Sereno.  Dean Mawis explained that while this issue  had previously been invoked in Philippine jurisprudence vs. other constitutional officials, e.g., vs. former Comelec Chief Vicente de Vera in 1950 and more recently against former COA Chief Reynaldo Villar, the quo warranto issue has never been invoked before regarding the fitness for office of the Chief Justice, who's likewise a constitutional officer.

Those who questioned this principle with regard to efforts to oust the Chief Justice, such as IBP prexy Adel Fajardo, maintain that the only way to remove a constitutional official such as the Chief Justice  is by impeachment. Hence, to dissenters such as Fajardo, the quo warranto issue assails the independence of the judiciary, as guaranteed by the Constitution.   


President Duterte has publicly stated that he is above the fray in this burning issue of the CJ's fate, but to many minds, including this blogger, the fact that his appointed Sol-Gen has filed that quo warranto case vs. Sereno makes it difficult to believe that Mr. Duterte  has nothing to do with this ouster move against CJ. This is especially since his closest ally, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, personally pushed CJ’s impeachment in the 38-2 vote of the House Justice Committee.  

Following the House vote to impeach Sereno, a smaller group will prepare the Articles of Impeachment, to be submitted to plenary vote in the House. If the minimum 98 votes out of the total 292 House members are obtained on these articles of impeachment---and few doubt that the “super-majority” in the House won’t be able to muster that number---then Sereno automatically goes to the Senate for trial. Then defense lawyers she has carefully selected will be expected to cross legal swords with House prosecutors, and finally there’s the vote of the senators for either conviction or exoneration---as we saw in the trial of the late CJ Corona seven years ago.


The forthcoming trial of CJ Sereno will be the super-drama of the season and one reason heightening it is the incredible spunk of this lady justice in her “lay it on” challenge. It’s hard to predict how the Senate would go in the end---whether the anti-Sereno bloc could muster the 16 votes needed to convict her or not. The rumor mills seem to foretell that they won’t get the 16 votes as there are already 10 LP votes solid for Sereno and they might be able to get six other independent votes.  Is this the reason for Sereno’s confidence or is she really an incurable optimist?

Even assuming, however, that the first lady Chief Justice in Philippine history survives the Senate impeachment and manages to remain a free woman, there are those who argue that she should still resign after the Senate trial, as the highest form of patriotism from her. Such move on CJ Sereno's part, they argue, would hasten the healing process in a Supreme Court now so bitterly torn apart by dissension and prejudice, as to become ineffective already. 
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Senate committe on public works should conduct hearings into the construction of high-rises all around the country, following alarm raised by structural engineers on use of Quench-Tempered steel bars

Last Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, the Consumers' Union of the Philippines, headed by its president, Atty. Rodel A. Taton, organized an excellent forum at the Quezon City Sports Club on  a most important and urgent topic: "Earthquake Preparedness., Are We Ready for the Big One?"

The guest speaker was Civil Engr. Emilio M. Morales, MSCE, F.ASCE, F.PICE, F.ASEP, Chair of the National Structural Code Committee of the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines (ASEP). Engr Danilo Domingo, incumbent ASEP President, was also present.

Engr. Morales obtained his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology and his Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the renowned Carnegie Institute of Technology, Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, USA. Morales is the principal partner of EMZA Partners & Co.. the first Filipino Consulting Company accredited under ISO 9001, He is also connected with the Philippine GEOANALYTICS, Inc., the first Philippine laboratory accredited under ISO 17025 and the First laboratory outside Continental US accredited under US NVLAP. 

Engr Emilio M. Morales
Engr. Morales' message, presented in a paper titled "A Clear and Present Danger 2---The use of QT or TMT Rebars in Seismic Zone 4”--was so timely and I'm glad I heard his talk, so that I can now pass it on to you, my readers, and hopefully you could pass it on.  This is not to seek to cause undue alarm to prospective investors in  high-rise buildings now mushrooming not only in Metro Manila but also in various other business and economic centers all around the country.

My purpose in raising this subject here is to call attention to the dangers posed by the use of the reinforcing bars in high rise buildings and also to seek remedial measures---so as to prevent a bigger disaster in our country from happening, in case a magnitude 7.2 earthquake will hit Metro Manila or other parts of the country ,similar to what hit Taiwan over three weeks ago.


Morales anchored his talk on the crucial element in the construction of high rises---the steel bars that form the skeletal backbone of the skyscrapers' structural members, such as beams, columns and shear walls. 

Morales contended that in the past 10 to 12 years, the technology called the "Quench Tempered (QT)," steel bars---also known as the Thermo-mechanically Treated (TMT) rebars---has crept into the construction market. These QT-TMT rebars have almost totally replaced the more expensive but more reliable "Microalloyed (MA) steel bars which was being used at that time---without the attendant concerns connected with use of those QT or TMT rebars.


From what we laymen gathered from Engr. Morales' lecture-- which I pursued further with him in last Sunday's 6 pm. dzRH program that I regularly co-host with RM Awardee Cecile Guidote Alvarez---the introduction into the construction market of the QT rebars is a most WORRISOME development, almost passing unnoticed until ASEP made representations and qualified such use in the NSCP 2015. ASEP stressed that the Philippines, with the exception of Palawan, lies in the Seismic Zone 4---which means we are in a region beset by severe earthquakes
In the Consumers' Union forum, Engr. Morales stressed that the summary paper he issued there is aimed "at alerting the Engineering Community and the public to the uninformed use of QT/TMT rebars, and to reduce the dangers posed by such usage."


Unfortunately, this is a matter very few people seem to be aware of, not to mention that it is rather technical and therefore above the heads of lay minds. This is why I assert that THERE SHOULD BE A SENATE HEARING ON THIS ISSUE BY THE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Let the truth be ferreted out---before an unthinkable catastrophe is upon us.

The prospect of a new Ruby Tower tragedy is heightened in our era by the fact that so many skyscrapers have mushroomed all over Greater Manila as well as in various other big cities in the country---not to mention the important projects in the  "Build, Build, Build" battle-cry of the Duterte administration.


As Engr. Morales explained, the outer part of these QT rebars---also known in engineering parlance as the "SKIN" of those steel bars---should hold a significant share  of the strength of those bars, while the CORE of the bars itself holds the remainder strength.  This outer skin, however, could be damaged and rendered brittle when subjected to the inevitable welding and even the threading of steel rebars (when joining one rebar to another by splicing). Similarly, these rebars, when bent by using heat, can be affected,  thus removing the effect of the Tempering process.

If this outer core is damaged, THE STEEL BAR'S STRENGTH WOULD BE REDUCED SIGNIFICANTLY. In residential structures such strength could hold even in a moderate earthquake. In high-rises, however, where it is hoped that the various structural elements could hold together LONG ENOUGH TO FACILITATE THE FAST EVACUATIONS OF PEOPLE, this could indeed pose quite a problem---especially if the quake is as big as what hit Taipei weeks back.


According to Morales, the QT rebars crept into the market in the last 10 to 12 years and appeared to have replaced in many sites the "Micro-alloyed Steel" (MA) which has proved superior in performance, without the attendant weaknesses of the QT/TMT rebars. MA rebars, as he explained, derive their strength from the addition of rare alloying materials, specifically "vanadium" which is mined in Russia, and "Carbon" which are added during the steel-making process.

The end result, as structural engineers stress, "is a bar which, unlike the QT bar, has the same consistent hardness, strength and flexibility right across the whole cross-section of the bar."

The MA rebar derives its strength from these rare alloys, but unfortunately, says Morales, this fact has also made the MA rebars more expensive than the QT rebars. This may be the reason why various steel producers in our country quickly resorted to using the QT rebars despite safety issues involved in the latter.


It is significant to note, however, as Morales points out,  that Japan, which is very earthquake prone, does not use the QT rebars and that Taiwan has reportedly banned it after the recent big quake Also notable is that, as the Structural Engineering Association's paper points out, "...even international codes such as the New Zealand Code and the Australian Standards prohibit the use of QT/TMT rebars (which involve) Welding, Heating, Bending, Threading and even Tack welding of QT/TMT rebars." Similar studies in other countries highlight the vulnerability of these rebars to normal construction activities during rebar erection. 

In addition, full-scale tests of reinforced concrete under simulated earthquake-loading conducted in the University of Padova, in Italy have shown that premature failure can occur, compared to ordinary MA rebars. Thus, the ample evacuation time that structural engineers are building into their design could be lost with the use of QT /TMT rebars and a SUDDEN catastrophic collapse could occur.


I think it is imperative that the construction industry take a more serious look at what has been going on, and certainly the Senate should open a probe into the use of the QT/TMT rebars before it's too late.

The structural engineers' advocacy is "to encourage the Philippine Steel Industry, through the Philippine Iron & Steel Institute (PISI) to again bring the MA rebars into the market---to provide a choice for designers by categorically specifying this in their design and categorically stating that QT/TMT rebars are not to be supplied as an alternative in Seismic Zone 4 Building Designs."


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sereno refuses to resign. Digong has to rev up economy to prevent Pinoys from flocking to Middle East illegally,due to poverty at home. Boracay has to shut down for urgent repairs so as to prevent further deterioration as "cesspool" .

Pinay workers jubilant upon arriving on chartered flight from Kuwait
Urgent measures should be taken to prevent this emerald paradise from becoming a total "cesspool." 

I knew Ma. Lourdes “Meilou” Sereno long ago, when she was teaching at the UP and a corporate lawyer, and from time to time, our paths would cross on various social occasions. I haven’t seen her socially for many years now, and I only managed to read about her and her work with the late former Justice Florentino Feliciano in the PIATCO case. Later, after she was appointed to the Supreme Court as its Chief, I’d drop in on various hearings in the session hall. 

CJ Sereno was recently quoted in the news as standing pat at the SC’s helm---refusing to resign despite tremendous pressure from various quarters, and despite a good number of her colleagues in the High Court having testified openly against her in the House hearings.  

I am not surprised about CJ Sereno's resolve to stay in her post---in fact I would be more surprised if she suddenly throws in the towel.  That’s how I knew her in the past: very sure of herself and tough as nails. At this point I wish Meilou Sereno the best of luck in this biggest battle of her life.


I feel awfully sad, though, for the Supreme Court that we once held in such high esteem, as we remember all the personalities who had passed through its hallowed halls---many of whom were regarded as demi-gods whose pronouncements on various issues were always ex-cathedra. In contrast, I felt great distaste over the mud-throwing we citizens witnessed in recent months in the House of Representatives and in media, among those once-upon-a-time demi-gods of the SC who testified against the CJ in public..

In recent weeks that once-venerable institution has suffered immensely and I doubt if it could recover its lost glory soon---given all the public mud-slinging among Their Honors in recent House hearings. It has been heart-breaking for those of us who believe in old-fashioned reverence for esteemed institutions, especially the SC.  The whole controversy involving CJ Sereno and her colleagues---laid out before House members many of whom are themselves not exemplars of ethical behavior---has left a bad taste in the mouth.

I note, however, that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has distanced himself from openly joining the fight---refusing  the House invitation to testify against the Chief Justice, unlike their other colleagues. It was a smart move on Justice Carpio’s part, making him look statesmanlike.


Two issues now facing the Duterte administration---the sorry plight of Filipino workers in Kuwait and the destruction of our island-paradise of Boracay--- will have tremendous repercussions on the nation’s economic life. Both issues have to be handled with decisive authority by the President. .  

On the situation of our OFWs in Kuwait: the DFA estimates that there are some 250,000 Filipino workers there, employed mostly as domestics. Stories of physical abuse and humiliations against our OFWs there are not new, but the shocking revelation about a dead Filipino woman kept in a freezer for a year in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait exploded like a time bomb and shook our nation to its roots in its unimaginable horror. 

This is a situation that cries to high heavens for justice and President Duterte has done the right thing in sending planes to repatriate all our workers from Kuwait. But that doesn't solve the huge problem of our OFWs in the Middle East. It has only begun. 


The horrible treatment of our OFWs, especially our women, in Arab countries stems from the fact that many of them or perhaps most of them are illegal entrants---victims of unscrupulous recruiters here who prey on their ignorance and  acute poverty.  Because many of these OFWs are illegally staying in Kuwait, and other Arab countries, they are logical targets for harsh treatment and abuse from their employers---who would otherwise turn them over to the authorities as illegals if they protest.

In the case of the late Joanna Demafelis, the Filipina stored in a freezer, it is obvious that despite  her sister Jessica’s efforts  to locate  her for a whole year--- seeking help from POEA and OWWA--- these agencies did not lift a finger to find her (it was the Kuwaiti police who found her in the deserted apartment). President Duterte should order heads to roll in those two agencies for their unspeakable indifference. 


The episode of the frozen Filipino woman emphasizes a central point: many of our people, in their abysmal poverty, are kapit-patalim. They know all the abuses that citizens especially in non-Christian countries commit against them but still they leave in droves--- because of the grinding poverty in many regions of our country. What is needed is for government to truly rev up the economy so that our citizens could find employment here--- instead of exporting especially our women as toilet-cleaners and yayas of the world, most prone to abuse. 

Three decades ago, it was Indonesians, Thais and Indians who were exported as domestics, but now those countries have progressed while we still rely heavily on exporting especially our women, who are subjected to abuse in the Middle East. This is a reality that our economic geniuses must remedy. 

I would advocate pushing the training programs under TESDA full throttle---so that our people get to acquire skills that locally-based industries could absorb, as PEZA Chief Ching Plaza emphasized in our dzRH interview recently. 


As for Boracay, the Tourism Department has to enforce rules and regulations to ensure that better sewage systems and garbage disposal are constructed---no two ways about it.  Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu stresses that 51 tourist establishments on Boracay would have to be shut down as their sewage is channeled directly to the sea---in violation of the Clean Water Act of 2004. But the 51 resorts are only part of over 200  found with faulty sewage facilities that threaten to cause epidemics.  

Obviously  local officials in Malay in Aklan, which has jurisdiction over Boracay, have not been enforcing the laws. Mr. Duterte mulls closing down the island to international tourism for some period while total clean-up and rehabilitation are undertaken. There's worry, however, that closing down the island would greatly affect our tourist industry---and the economy. But there seems to be no other recourse  as otherwise, that world-famous paradise island would be forever damaged.

In both cases of our OFWs in the Middle East and the rehab of Boracay, the political will of the Duterte administration will have its acid test.