Substandard steel products flooding the country?

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    A LAWMAKER has asked the House of Representatives to look into the proliferation of alleged substandard steel products in the country which endangers the lives of people, particularly those living and working in high-rise buildings that might collapse when a high-intensity earthquake hits the country.

    Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun filed House Resolution No. 379 urging the committee on trade and industry to look into the alleged “continuous smuggling and proliferation of substandard steel products in the Philippines resulting from the collusion between large steelmakers and officials of the DTI and Bureau of Customs.”

    Fortun said the Consumers Union of the Philippines, the Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan (AGHAM party-list), the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute and the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines sounded the alarm on the proliferation of substandard construction materials, “posing grave threats on the lives and properties of Filipinos and muddling the integrity of the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program.”

    Assistant Customs Commissioner Philip Vincent Maronilla earlier said four to five steel companies were being audited by the BOC, including Steel Asia, one of the country’s biggest steel firms.

    He said the initial findings will be submitted to the Department of Finance and to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

    Fortun said the situation is reportedly the offshoot of smuggling of steel products “with misdeclared grades, length, sizes and weights as well as replacement by local steel manufacturers of micro-alloyed (MA) steel bars with quenched-tempered (QT) steel bars without the full knowledge of the design engineering community as well as the end-users.”

    “QT steel bars, which are made by rapid cooling of plain low carbon steel by water spray, producing a strong outer layer but a weaker inner core, are said to be relatively thin and brittle making these unfit for use in high-rise construction especially in seismic zone 4 countries like the Philippines,” said the resolution.

    The lawmaker expressed concern that some steelmakers are labeling their re-bars or reinforcing bars as grade 60 in strength when they are only grade 40, “which is the minimum requirement for reinforcing bars to be used in high-rise buildings and other major infrastructures.”

    “This seeming grand deception may have led to the rise in the past 10 years to 12 years of structurally-compromised buildings and infrastructure that may not be able to withstand high-intensity earthquakes, including the anticipated ‘The Big One,’ thus endangering the lives of millions of Filipinos,” Fortun said.

    Just last April, a supermarket building in Porac, Pampanga collapsed during magnitude 6.1 quake that hit Luzon.

    Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza earlier said the amount of lost tax revenues due to misdeclaration of steel imports would have been enough to fund the government’s social services and infrastructure projects.

    The government reportedly lost half a trillion pesos in revenues because of the misdeclaration of steel imports which is also being investigated by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).

    PACC is preparing the tax evasion cases against a leading steel manufacturer and some BOC officials.

    President Duterte has reportedly been informed of the tax evasion case being prepared by the PACC and the DTI against customs officials and the steelmakers who are accused of describing the imports of cast and prime steel billets used for steel manufacturing as Grade 60 when the orders under the same code are a mix of Grade 40 (5sp) and Grade 33 (3sp).

    Last month, the President slammed the BOC anew for rampant corruption, and axed 64 top officials and employees of the BOC linked to unethical practices.