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Rubble browser

business / Columnists
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Breaktime

Rubble browser

Now is the time for the Aquino (Part II) administration to act—and act fast.

That is the overriding sentiment in the business sector regarding the much talked about reconstruction of the Visayas, which was devastated by an intensity 7.2 earthquake and Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

Unfortunately there is hardly any indication that the administration is about to start anytime soon, although our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS) said that it would be a broad full-scale reconstruction effort.

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It has been more than a month after Yolanda, and more than two months after the strong earthquake. More than two weeks ago, our leader BS appointed former Sen. Panfilo Lacson as the “rehabilitation czar.” Of course, Lacson wasted no time in announcing the investigation of certain local officials for the misuse of funds for the victims. Well, the former senator is also a former policeman.

But the sense of urgency in the reconstruction remains. The strong earthquake alone reportedly affected more than 350,000 people and destroyed more than 73,000 structures, 50,000 of which were ordinary homes.

The tally on Yolanda has yet to be finalized. But the initial, albeit conservative, estimate already put the extent of the destruction at more than a million houses.

Anyway, some NGOs and private companies already have their own blueprints for low-cost houses. In their construction plans, they already incorporated some scientific studies done in the aftermath of the disasters.

Private organizations like the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute commissioned engineers and construction experts to analyze the rubble in the heavily damaged areas.

But those rubble browsers recovered substandard building materials. They found out for instance that the “reinforcement bars” used in the concrete houses that collapsed in the earthquake zone were substandard—some weighed 20 percent less than the standard set by the DTI’s Bureau of Product Standard. They hypothesized that the steel bars were possibly made from “wire rods”—instead of the standard material called “billets”—thus making the bars lose tensile strength.

The thing is, in this country, the law prohibits the use of wire rods to produce reinforcement steel bars. Thus, authorities regularly inspect the factories of local steel makers to make sure that they are using high-grade billets.

The studies found an obvious correlation between the widespread use of substandard building materials in the Visayas and the scale of the damage from the earthquake and supertyphoon.

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Look, boss, our building code (National Building Code of the Philippines, or RA 6541) specifies that, as a standard, structures should be able to survive intensity 9 earthquakes. The earthquake that hit the Visayas was measured at 7.2 on the Richter scale. Based on the building code, the relatively new structures in the regions should have withstood the tremor.

A few years ago, incidentally, a strong earthquake also hit central China, flattening entire cities there. The authorities eventually said that poor enforcement of engineering standards, such as the use of inferior steel reinforcement bars, was behind the widespread damage.

It is no mere coincidence that the main port in the Visayas happens to be Cebu—the reported entry point of steel products smuggled from China. The widespread use of substandard steel bars in the area must have only one reason: the rampant smuggling of steel products.

Now, the job to stop smuggling belongs to the Bureau of Customs. The job to check the quality of construction materials belongs to the BPS. And the job to enforce the building code belongs to the LGUs.

Nobody can yet say if those outfits are ready to undertake the reconstruction of the Visayas.

* * *

But here is a bit of good news to the victims in the Visayas: The Land Registration Authority, or LRA, said that all land titles in the vaults of the Registry of Deeds in the devastated areas were intact. Whew.

Actually, LRA administrator Eulalio C. Diaz III ordered a full inventory of the land titles, and had sent his deputy administrator for operations, Robert Nomar Leyretana, to visit the Yolanda-hit provinces.

The LRA found out that the land titles kept in the vaults in Tacloban and Palo (Leyte), Ormoc City, Tagbilaran City, and Biliran and Bohol provinces—all affected by the earthquake and the supertyphoon—were all preserved.

Here is the problem: The landowners who lost their homes naturally also lost their duplicate copies of the land titles.

Leyretana nevertheless said that, as legal remedy, the landowners could file a petition in court for the reissuance of the copy.

In this country, unfortunately, such a legal process might take forever. What can the landowners do? Well, the LRA is proposing that the judicial process be replaced by an administrative proceeding in the LRA. This will require an amendment of the law in Congress.

In the House of Representatives, word is out that a group of lawmakers is working precisely for such an amendment, with an eye toward a temporary suspension of the need for judicial action to reissue copies of land titles.

But in this country, unfortunately, acts of Congress also might take forever. Uh-oh, do you think that those poor victims of Yolanda who already lost their houses, are now in danger of losing their properties?

Still, according to the LRA, its offices in the Visayas at the moment are rushing the full operation of their computer systems, which can prevent syndicates (i.e., land grabbers) from making fake claims over the properties.

The computerized system of the LRA was designed to make sure that new copies of land titles could be issued only to the real landowners.

After all, the original land titles in the vaults of the LRA were all intact, which the LRA intended to duplicate as digital copies in its computers, making them rather difficult to alter physically.

The LRA nevertheless urged the landowners in the devastated areas to take physical possession of their properties. Even without a structure on them, the properties are safe from the land grabbing syndicates, because they are clearly marked what are known in the vernacular as “mojons,” or boundary monuments.

As a final precaution, the LRA advised landowners to do a resurvey of their properties by hiring geodetic engineers, who could then follow the technical descriptions of the properties, as stated in the land titles.

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TAGS: Breaktime, Business, conrado r. banal iii, Eastern Visayas, LRA, reconstruction, rehabilitation, Yolanda
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