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An Open Letter to Mayor-elect Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, Vice Mayor-elect Cesar Iturralde and the incoming SP Members on the Newly Rehabilitated SP Building


June 16, 2013

As a true-blooded Zamboangueño and a practicing structural engineer, I’m deeply concerned about the present status of the newly rehabilitated and improved Sangguniang Panglungsod Building. Sifting through reports on this topic from our local newspapers online, I gathered that the just-recently inaugurated building has been observed by some occupants to leak during heavy downpour which prompted one councilor to recommend the withholding of the remaining payment to the contractor who did the renovation works until all leaks are fixed. If the reported leaks are validated by the City Engineers Office, then this gives us two possible scenarios. One is the possibility that the leaks were caused by shoddy work and lax in supervision and the other, which is more alarming, is the possibility that the defects were generated by structural deficiencies in the foundation and/or the building structure itself.

I just hope and pray that the root cause of these recent “minor” leaks is in the implementation because it can easily be remedied. However, if these leaks are the product of an inherent structural inadequacy in the building and/or the foundation then this is really a big cause for concern. For one, the City Government would unfairly penalize and, in the process, besmirch the reputation of the present contractor by stopping the payment due him even though he only followed the approved plans.

Secondly, this second scenario will invariably put in question the technical recommendations accepted by the City Government which, I suppose, served as the bases in coming up with the rehabilitation and improvement plans. If I understood it correctly, the City Government, prior to the implementation of this project, sought “the expertise of a structural engineer and the assistance of the local PICE to help ensure that the rehabilitation and improvement work on the SP building will be effective and reliable”.

Thirdly, if the structural weaknesses are still present despite the recent corrective measures implemented by the recent rehabilitation and improvement works on the building it will surely undermine the wisdom of the City Government in pursuing this project and spending P21.47 millions of taxpayers’ money. This will, in a way, add credence to the stance of the “opposition councilors who have questioned that the main foundation of the building is the one that is defective and no amount of repair such as the roof, the rooms, walls can stop the building from sinking due to the lack of foundation”.
Fourthly, if indeed these cracks are proven to be emanating from structural deficiencies then the recent plan of one councilor not to hold office in the newly-renovated building “for reason he does not want to legitimize the defective and flawed structure” is well founded. Unless there is an assurance from a fair-minded and competent structural engineer and tangible evidence that the building is really structurally safe, his decision to put his safety first and not risk his life and that of his staff is very understandable and even laudable.

Similarly, another councilor averred that “Our SP employees has been working here and we don’t want that their working environment will be deemed as a source of public apprehension and fear due to cracks, leaking and reported movements of the edifice. Our SP employees deserve a better and safer place to work…” I cannot agree more on these two councilors because I believe that the SP building, or any building for that matter, must exude an “aura of strength” that enhances the mood of its occupants to feel secure and safe at all times thereby improving its conduciveness to work and increasing productivity among employees.

Despite these legitimate concerns raised by some of the councilors, it was reported that the City Engineer has already given his assurance that the defects are only minor in nature when one councilor was quoted as saying “Taman uyun yo con el posicion di Vice Mayor Iturralde y tambien con el aseguramiento del City Engr. cay minor defects lang tiene ahora el edificio”. The City Engineer may have his reasons to downplay the significance of the “minor” leaks.

However, given the history of this building, for me, it is quite premature to make a technically sound and appropriate conclusion at this point in time. To refresh our memory, it can be recalled that right after the completion of this structure in 2006, “so-called hair-line cracks” were “discovered on almost all corners of the building” which triggered an investigation by “a technical team from the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE)” who concluded that the “cracks appearing in the walls of the 3rd floor over the session hall are indications of structural inadequacy of the girder” and “that the correction made by CEO was not actually a correction but rather an additional load of the floor next to the session hall and has no bearing on the structural strength of the subject beam”. PICE submitted the said report to the Office of the Mayor in September of 2006.

In hindsight, it is worth noting that what was downplayed to be just hair-line cracks or minor defects turned out to be the tell-tale signs of a major structural weakness in the building and foundation that led the City Government to justify the spending of P21.47 million for its rehabilitation and improvement!

Now, it seems that history is repeating itself. Leaks were discovered right after the completion of the recent repair works and concerned government officials are hastily assuming that these defects as just minor in nature. I hope we have already learned our lessons of the past and be more prudent in formulating our conclusions. Let’s do things right this time around for it would be plain stupidity if we commit the same mistakes again. Repeating history should not be an option. Let’s get our acts together and put action over rhetoric, logical thinking over faulty reasoning, common sense over politics and the interest of the people over selfish interest. Remember, the precious lives of the occupants, a huge government property and millions of pesos of taxpayers’ money are the ones at stake here.

It is not only “the councilors and all the other employees housed at the SP building”, but everybody deserves to know the true condition of the SP building. Unfortunately, finding the truth and getting to the bottom of this problem is easier said than done. It requires an honest-to-goodness and decisive leader with a strong political will and a cooperative SP to sincerely seek the truth and to immediately deal with it head on. Unless our local government bigwigs can muster enough courage to call a spade a spade, any effective and appropriate measure to rectify any deficiency will just go to naught and, sooner or later, nature may just eventually take its disastrous course.

In view of the foregoing, I wish to offer my two cents worth on this issue for the councilors to immediately sponsor a resolution for the creation of an independent fact-finding body composed of at least three (3) disinterested, non-partisan and competent structural engineers and civil engineers to undertake, among others,  the following tasks, to wit;

1.    Conduct a thorough ocular inspection of the building,
2.    Review all the related geotechnical reports, structural analysis and design calculations made, results of in-situ and laboratory tests done, as-built drawings of the structure and other pertinent engineering documents,
3.    Synthesize individual findings, and
4.    Come up with a technical evaluation and recommendations report, and
5.    Within a month, submit the said report to the City Mayor and SP members for their reference and guidance.

Considering that the problem is highly technical in nature, an unbiased output would be very helpful and invaluable to the City Mayor and SP members who are not engineers. Getting the right inputs would surely redound to better, more sensible and more cost-effective decisions in addressing this pestering problem. For me, the hiring of an engineering firm at this point in time, as one councilor suggested, is still too early as we don’t know yet the extent of the defects and the scope of work such firm has to undertake. What we all need to know, for now, is the true state of the structural integrity of the SP building!

God bless and more power to you. Muchas gracias.

Engr. Raul D. Santos
BSCE, M.Eng.(Structural), M.ASEP
Structural Engineer – Consultant
City Mayor’s Office
Ormoc City
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