Post-’Yolanda’ exposé: Schools built with substandard materials

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Malbago Elementary School students hold up “thank you, Caritas” signs during the official turnover ceremonies of the school, March 21, 2016. (Photo: Nirva Delacruz)

BANTAYAN Island, Cebu City, March 24, 2016 – Nearly three years after super typhoon Yolanda, an international non-government organization’s school construction project for survivors on this island reveals that government contractors built public schools using sub-standard materials and continues to do so.

According to Peter Timm, Caritas Switzerland’s technical delegate for its school construction projects on this island, remnants of school structures damaged by the super typhoon show that contractors chosen by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) built public schools with limestone, beach sand, and sea water, materials unsuited for construction.

“[For] the previous schools, they used limestone. They used beach sand and on the island they use also sea water to construct the building. You can see this when you see the damage [after Yolanda], it’s clear that they used limestone and beach sand,” he explained during an exclusive interview with CBCP News on March 21.

He stressed: “The building will collapse… if you don’t use the correct materials.”

Wrong materials

Beach sand’s natural qualities, together with the particular moistness of limestone, explained Timm, destroys the integrity of steel reinforcements, causing corrosion.

“The concrete breaks, then it’s finished,” said the German construction engineer, noting also that limestone is too soft to make durable concrete.

During a briefing with the media on Monday, Timm, who has supervised construction in various countries not just in Germany but in Afghanistan, Haiti, and Africa, among others, also mentioned seeing a damaged school fitted with bamboo reinforcements instead of steel.

He specifically mentioned an ongoing DPWH school construction in Bunakan, Madridejos also on this island by a certain “Gonzales construction” company that uses the wrong kind of reinforcements.

The said contractor uses green-tipped reinforcements for a 2-storey building, which, Timm said, should use a yellow one, a sturdier, bigger type.

Peter Timm, Caritas Switzerland's technical delegate (Photo: Nirva Delacruz)

“They start already with the construction and again, they use the wrong reinforcements.”

Unfinished buildings

According to Timm, who oversees the details of Caritas Switzerland’s post-Yolanda school construction projects on the island together with the NGO Emergency Architects, pre-Yolanda construction mistakes continue unaddressed in ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

He said: “In Kinatarcan, it was unbelievable. They built 18 classrooms with the wrong materials, with the wrong reinforcements and it was a disaster.”

Government contractors, according to Timm, apparently fail to deliver complete services to the communities in need.

“And it also they do not finish the buildings. They (the buildings) are not painted, they have no electricity… But they said, ‘The money is all out, we will stop construction,’” added the community mobilizer.

According to Rafonzel Roska, junior social manager of the NGO’s school construction projects, the Caritas Switzerland staff had repeatedly contacted the DPWH to call their attention about their findings but their calls and messages have remained unanswered.

Caritas Switzerland officially turned over on March 21 its second school, Malbago Elementary School, which was completely damaged by super typhoon Yolanda. After construction and special retrofitting, the school can withstand 7.2 magnitude earthquakes and super typhoons.

Swiss Ambassadress Andrea Reichlin as well as Caritas Switzerland chief delegate Marcel Reymond were present at the school’s simple ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony. (Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz / CBCP News)

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