Attention: Secretary Mark Villar
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Before people start cleaning up or contaminating the “Scene of the Crime,” no less than DPWH Secretary Mark Villar should immediately conduct a forensic examination of more than 1500 school buildings that were affected by the recent earthquakes because there is widespread proof that a number of builders and contractors cheated the government particularly the DepEd. From what I understand the Department of Education “pays” or “funds” the construction of school buildings that are suppose to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake. The construction of those school buildings and schoolrooms in turn is the sole responsibility of the Department of Public Works and Highways. Judging from the aftermath of the October/November earthquakes in Mindanao, we have undeniable evidence that the buildings were not built to withstand a magnitude 8. In fact some buildings were so badly built that it bordered on criminal negligence or reckless endangerment! 

An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 public school buildings were reportedly destroyed or seriously damaged after three earthquakes hit various parts of Mindanao in the last three weeks. According to reports on the ground more than 50 percent of those buildings are “New” and judging from photos collected from the field anyone familiar with construction can quickly surmise that the damages resulted from one of several obvious causes; Walls collapsed because the builder did not bother to dig a 18” to 24” deep trench and install a web constructed out of steel bars that serves as the “footing” for posts and the walls itself. In one photo of the Federico Alferez Elementary school in Digos City, Davao, an entire wall of a school room fell outward flat on its side which indicates that the wall was not anchored to a post, had no proper foundation and barely any steel bars to keep it upright. Imagine if the wall had fallen inward on school children. If the wall were built right it would not have collapsed as one whole piece. Crumble and cracked perhaps but not fall flat. 

A common observation in the earthquake-hit areas is that many of the damaged schools had their ceilings collapsing down on the schoolrooms. I asked a friend to send me photos and I could tell that the builders skimped or cheated in their construction by not installing the appropriate number of roof ties or beams across a schoolroom. Ideally in today’s construction, this would be made out of thick steel and would be long enough and strong enough to support the load of the roof and provide an anchor for the plywood or particleboard ceiling panels. But what I saw many times over were collapsed ceilings because the builders used coconut lumber or “C channels” which are made out of thin metal that are machine pressed but have no strength to carry a ceiling across a wide distance such as a classroom.  For all intent and purpose, coconut lumber should be banned first and foremost because it leads to the destruction of coconut trees. The mere fact that DPWH contractors still install ceilings as a heat barrier shows how “Jurassic” their school building designs are. Many LGUs around the country simply require their contractors to install foamed insulation to be glued or tied into their metal roofs and this saves a ton of cash results in cooler rooms and multi-purpose halls and makes it easy to repair leaks whenever.

As construction lumber, coconut should be disallowed because its strength and durability is totally inconsistent and once it is exposed to rain water or high moisture it quickly deteriorates. Coconut lumber and thin metal C-channels do not have strength when used horizontally to carry weight. You could get away with using them vertically such as in walls where their strength is multiplied when combined with plywood or cement board but using them horizontally leads to collapsed ceilings as shown in the many schools destroyed in Mindanao.

It’s hard to tell based on pictures but many of the cracked or crumbled walls and pavements would indicate that the builders of those school building did not follow industry standard mix of gravel, sand, cement and steel bar webbing. A number of the pathways were probably poured in place without any connection, ties or anchored to the adjacent schoolrooms or building and were done at a later date. Most people don’t know that there will be little to poor adhesion when you do that. There is even a special chemical used for this type of job. Another reason for such cracking and separation is caused by too much water or too little water and poor quality sand that has soil or mud in it. Speaking of Jurassic building designs, why persist in making classroom walls and partitions out of concrete and hollow blocks or plywood. The former is too expensive and cannot be inspected for the quality and sufficient use of steel bars used, while plywood is susceptible to termite damage and fire. I have used Cement Fiberboards commonly called Hardiflex on various applications including our rest house in Lipa as room dividers even as lightweight walls and given the proper treatment they have lasted years. We have survived many typhoons in the last 15 years. In fact a businessman once sent his design team to copy what we did when he put had a storage facility built.   In case you’re wondering where all this information comes, well I’ve actually worked in and around construction sites beginning in the US, then in Busuanga/Coron Palawan where I was involved in the construction of two resorts, from there I was personally involved in the design and construction of our current home and the last being a low-cost but spacious and presentable rest house in Lipa, Batangas. So I think I know enough to say that Secretary Mark Villar should investigate before he ends up being the one wrongly accused and investigated.

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