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.

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. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dengvaxia hysteria triggers fear of all inoculations, in fact even of deworming, lament medical practitioners in full-page ads. Investigation of this anomaly ought to result in court charges. President Duterte should not ignore growing antagonism of UP students.

UP Students rallying in Diliman against the Duterte Administration

Yesterday, February 06, some 200 of this country’s most prominent medical practitioners as well as a few other concerned professionals lent their names to a full-page statement published in leading newspapers, titled “Statement on the Dengvaxia Controversy.” The professionals denounced the confusion and hysteria over the reliability and integrity of the Dengvaxia vaccine as well as the unfortunate attacks on the integrity of some professionals involved in its study and implementation.

The signatories wholeheartedly supported the suspension by the DOH of the Dengvaxia program implementation, pending full-blown investigation and accountability of this mess.  


To my mind, however, the most significant point that the medical practitioners stressed is their justifiable concern about how the death of some children, supposedly attributed to Dengvaxia, has brought up what could be A MORE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCE.  This is the fear spreading especially among lower-income families about all kinds of vaccine inoculations---so that there is now a palpable resistance to them where there was none before.

The medical professionals asserted in their full-page ad a very crucial point that was also raised earlier by Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption when he guested in the dzRH Sunday 6pm. program that Cecile Alvarez and I co-hosted a week ago. Jimenez stressed the fear of the medical community that because of the disinformation/misinformation and mass hysteria “that is allowed to rule over logical and scientific judgment” in the Dengvaxia case, other vaccination programs of DOH have also become suspect. In fact, parents are now afraid even of de-worming.


The medical professionals are validly apprehensive that as a result of the prevailing fear about Dengvaxia’s ill effects, many parents are now afraid of “the (other) life-saving vaccines that our government gives.” The parents’ refusal could lead to “outbreaks of debilitating and life-threatening diseases that we have already been able to control through our vaccination programs,” said the medics.  In other words, epidemics.

If you ask me, this situation whereby the trust of parents in the government inoculation program has suffered is MOST SERIOUS AND ITS REPERCUSSIONS ON PUBLIC HEALTH CANNOT BE OVER-ESTIMATED.  Thus, it is imperative that those officials in the previous administration who caused this Dengvaxia mess through sloppy diligence---and it’s almost inevitable to conclude---their eagerness to raise campaign funds through possible kickbacks from the P3.6 billion vaccines---be brought to justice.


I was in Hongkong in 1997, during its handover by Great Britain, represented by Gov. Chris Patten, the last British governor of colonial Hongkong; it subsequently became a special autonomous region (SAR). Prince Charles represented the British Royal Family in the ceremonies and I remember feeling strangely sentimental when the royal yacht “Britannia” carrying Charles blew its horn for the last time in Hongkong Harbor before sailing away. Fireworks displays burst in the skies afterwards.

Now I read an article published in Inquirer, titled “In defense of democracy,” authored by Chris Patten, now the chancellor of the prestigious Oxford University in the UK.  In his article Patten traces the challenges to democracy in various places, notably in Russia under President Vladimir Putin and in the US under President Donald Trump. He asserts that “In a real democracy, free and fair elections are complemented more broadly by the rule of law, due process, an independent judiciary, an active civil society, and freedom of the press, worship, assembly, and association.”


Chris Patten then cites examples of the lack of adherence to democratic norms in both Russia and the US, zeroing in specifically on Trump’s sins: “He assaults the freedom of the press, implicitly encouraging supporters to attack journalists, say, by tweeting…(and) he attempts to subvert America’s system of checks and balances.”  Patten asserts that “While some parts of America’s democratic political system---for example, the judicial check on executive authority---have proved resilient, others are breaking down.” He opines that President Trump “is a consequence of this breakdown, not its cause.”

Patten concludes that the problem over the years is that “both Democrats and Republicans seem to have abandoned their commitment to governing by consensus,” so that “the constitutional breaks that America’s founders created to prevent the election of a huckster like Trump have failed.” Patten’s indictment of the US system is severe: “Propelled by popular discontent with rising inequality and seemingly self-dealing elites, the (US) political system is spinning out of control.”


Patten’s observations about the failing check and balance system in the US raise some similarity with our system here. President Duterte, a most forceful leader, has been at odds with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and this came to a climax when he ordered Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang placed on 90-day suspension---after he started probing the President’s alleged unexplained wealth, in response to Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ petition for this probe.  

The feisty Morales refused to suspend her deputy, citing the “clear affront to the Supreme Court” which made a ruling last Jan. 28, 2014 declaring as unconstitutional the Ombudsman Act’s provision that gave the Office of the President disciplinary powers over the Ombudsman’s deputies. 

Corollary to this was the advice recently given by Mr. Duterte to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in New Delhi, to ignore criticisms from human rights groups over her government’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. This "advice" was unfortunate as it only reinforced the President’s assailable reputation on human rights.  


Then too, Mr. Duterte reacted badly to the protests of the UP students in Diliman over human rights violations in recent weeks (doesn’t he realize that UP students throughout history have always been in protest of one issue or another). Because of his pique, he has threatened to replace the protesters with lumad students, which has only riled up Diliman even more.  

A big protest is scheduled by a campus political party called “Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights” (STAND UP) on Friday, Feb. 23 in Diliman where the students would insist that it should be Mr. Duterte who should vacate his position, not them.