DTI to probe substandard steel after Mindanao quakes

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THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it will investigate the alleged proliferation of substandard steel after legislators cited the damage to buildings caused by recent earthquakes in Mindanao.

In a statement Friday, the DTI said that it supports House Resolution 379, which on Nov. 4 sought an investigation into substandard steel and cement products that may have compromised the southern island’s infrastructure.

“We welcome this call and shall fully cooperate and support the investigation to be conducted in order to ensure that the public will not be harmed by substandard construction materials,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said.

House Resolution 379 directs the department to conduct an inquiry into the alleged smuggling of substandard steel products, with the alleged collusion between steelmakers, the DTI, and the Bureau of Customs.

Mr. Lopez said such smuggling runs against the agency’s goal of protecting consumers and strengthening manufacturing. He added that the DTI will investigate to ensure that there is no corruption in the system.

He is also encouraging third-party investigations, including those led by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).

“We heightened the campaign against substandard products because it is not safe for consumers and unfair to local manufacturers who will face cheap competition. This, in turn, may shrink the country’s manufacturing base and lead to job losses. Clearly, smuggling substandard steel is detrimental to the mission of the agency,” Mr. Lopez said.

Mr. Lopez said that under the Duterte administration, the DTI has developed stricter product standards, included more products in the list of mandatory compliance, and increased the sample size of products for testing.

“We are adding more products for mandatory compliance… (if many of them are) not subjected to mandatory testing, substandard products can come in,” he said.

DTI has cracked down on steel products like rebar and angle bars. The agency has also increased its surveillance of foreign manufacturers.

The guidelines also include regular annual surveillance and surprise factory visits and requiring steel manufactures to set up their own testing facilities prior to qualifying for a Philippine Standards license.

The guidelines require inspections at various stages of transport, including pre-shipment, post-shipment, and audit in retail.

In 2019, the DTI Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau has so far issued 61 notices of violation against establishments found distributing non-conforming steel products.

The department is studying the inclusion of roofing, ceramic tiles, and plywood in the list for mandatory certification, and is holding consultations on the regulation of black iron and galvanized iron, steel pipe, and steel sheets. — Jenina P. Ibañez