By Ellson Quismorio
As far as House leaders are concerned, the successive big earthquakes that jolted Mindanao the past two weeks justify an inquiry on the smuggling and proliferation of substandard steel products in the country.
Davao City 3rd district Rep. Isidro Ungab, Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, Quezon City 2nd district Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo, and ACT-CIS Party-List Rep. Eric Go Yap all expressed backing Sunday for House Resolution (HR) No.379 filed by their House of Representatives colleague, Agusan del Norte 1st district Rep. Lawrence Fortun.
According to Fortun, there is a need to investigate the supposed collusion between large steelmakers and officials of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in bringing in substandard steel products.
“This seeming grand deception may have led to the rise in the past 10 to 12 years of structurally-compromised infrastructures that may not be able to withstand high-intensity quakes, thus endangering the lives of millions of Filipinos,” he said.
Since Oct. 16, earthquakes reaching magnitudes of 6.3, 6.6, and 6.5 have jolted the southern region of Mindanao, damaging thousands of structures. Around a dozen people were killed by the temblors.
Ungab and Barbers said contractors who have been using the alleged smuggled below-par materials, including undersized steel bars, should be made to face the law.
“Those involved in the alleged collusion should be held accountable and dealt with accordingly, after due investigation,” said Ungab, chairman of Committee on Appropriations.
“The call of Congressman Fortun to investigate the proliferation of supposed substandard steel products should be prioritized to ensure public safety,” Barbers, chairman of the Committee on Dangerous Drugs, said.
The House resumes sessions today following a month-long recess.
In supporting the Fortun initiative, Castelo, a vice chairperson of the Committee on Metro Manila Development, said “heads must roll because we cannot toy with the lives of other people.”
“Someone should be [held] responsible [for], the proliferation of substandard steel that resulted in the collapse or damage to buildings in Mindanao,” she added.
Meanwhile, Games and Amusement panel chairman Yap said it’s in everyone’s best interest for the House to immediately act on HR 379.
“With the series of strong earthquakes in Mindanao, I could not help but cringe at the fact that some of the structures in the country may not be and no longer be structurally ready for calamities like these. Substandard materials continue to proliferate in the market particularly steel products and I strongly condemn these actions that endanger the lives of our people,” said Yap.
The Bureau of Customs announced it was cracking down on undervalued steel importations amid reports of poor quality steel products being smuggled in.
On the other hand, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Manuelito Luna said a parallel inquiry of the agency headed by chairman Dante Jimenez found sufficient evidence to pin down those behind the alleged technical smuggling of billions worth of steel bars.
Assistant Customs Commissioner Philip Vincent Maronilla had disclosed that four to five big steel companies were being audited by the BoC. Steel Asia, one of the country’s biggest steel firms, is reportedly among the companies undergoing audit.