Probes should clear up steel bars issue

Published October 30, 2019, 4:05 PM

by Manila Bulletin

E CARTOON OCT 31, 2019

The issue of substandard steel bars in construction is back in the limelight with a move in the House of Representatives to investigate reports of alleged collusion between large steelmakers in the country and officials of the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

A resolution for the probe was filed by Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun as he cited suspicions that the collapse of the four-story supermarket building in Porac, Pampanga, in a 6.1-magnitude earthquake last April was due to the use of Quenched-Tempered (QT) steel bars in constructing the building, instead of Micro-Alloy (MA) steel bars.

The House move followed an announcement by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) that it will look into possible losses in government tax revenues in the billions of pesos as a result of alleged collusion between some Bureau of Customs officials and big steel manufacturers. The BOC had earlier announced it was cracking down on undervalued steel importations.

Such multiple investigations have only served to muddle the situation. We thus welcome the House probe which should be able to see through the various conflicting claims of so many government agencies involved in one way or another with the central issue of the safety of steel bars now being used in the construction of thousands of high-rise buildings in the country.

Initial investigation by Congressman Fortun disclosed that Micro-alloyed (MA) steel bars have been replaced over the past ten years by Quench-Tempered (QT) steel bars, allegedly without the knowledge of building contractors, developers, and end-users.

There is the related issue of pollution in the two technologies used in the production of MA and QT steel bars, which has brought the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into the picture.

But it is the strength of the steel bars that is our principal concern in the wake of the collapse of the supermarket building in Pampanga. Around the world, QT steel bars, it is said, are no longer in use in China, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. In the battle of steel technologies, the country’s biggest steelmaker has been accused of trying to kill off smaller manufacturers it calls “backyard operators.”

In the face of so many complications, we look to the DTI, as the protector of product standards in the country, to conduct an impartial investigation and decide in a transparent manner on the key issue of steel bars that should be used in the country’s construction program.

As for the House inquiry, it should be able to clear up related issues of any irregularities that may be behind the steel bar controversy to ensure the safety and integrity of our country’s construction industry.