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Fortun seeks probe into ‘substandard’ school bldgs

By ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
Correspondent

A CONGRESSMAN from Agusan del Norte has called for an investigation into the construction of classrooms and school buildings throughout the country following the destruction of public school facilities in the earthquake-affected areas in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.

DESTROYED. This is what remains of a classroom at the San Isidro Elementary School in Barangay Malasila of Makilala, North Cotabato after the Oct. 31 earthquake. (photo by Erwin Mascariñas)

Department of Education (Deped) data show that around 1,047 schools were destroyed by the earthquakes, with property damage estimated at P3.3 billion.

“It is very alarming. How come most of the schools in the area were damaged during the recent earthquakes? These school buildings were supposed to be disaster-resilient,” said Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun of Agusan del Norte’s 1st District.

Fortun said he and other officials suspected that construction standards were not followed during the construction of the school buildings in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.

Fortun, a member of the House Committee on Mindanao affairs, said an investigation should cover the government’s school building program in the wake of the earthquake devastation.

The series of earthquakes killed some 24 people, injured more than 500 and left at least 10 missing, mostly believed to be buried by landslides.

“These recently constructed school buildings should not easily get damaged during earthquakes because these are part of the new school building designs to ensure disaster resiliency. These buildings are far more expensive than the previous designs because the materials are more costly. These were supposedly tougher, thicker and durable,” said Fortun.

He added: “So, we should look into these, and on how the Department of Public Works and Highways implemented the constructions. The DPWH is supposed to be very active in all aspects, from the preparation of the program of work, bidding until the construction, towards its completion.

“We need to check how it was implemented. Did the contractors follow the standards? If the contractors violated, then how did they pass the scrutiny of the DPWH? Did they use substandard materials?”

Fortun is pushing for House Resolution 379 that calls for an investigation into the alleged prevalence of below-standard construction materials.

The congressman also wants an investigation to find out if steelmakers and officials of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) were involved in smuggling substandard steel products.

Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista said many of the newly built school buildings in his city and the province were damaged.

“I’ve talked to the mayor of Tulunan, mayor of Makilala — all their new buildings were damaged. Ceilings collapsed; columns and walls cracked,” said Evangelista.

He said he and other officials suspected there were design problems.

“I don’t want to cast doubts on the contractors but this should be looked into,” he said.

A compilation of rapid assessment reports sent to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council accounted for nearly 2,000 schools that had varying degrees of damage due to the series of earthquakes that jolted Mindanao last month.

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