Six judges are opting for early retirement than return to the Iloilo Hall of Justice which was abandoned after the February 2011 earthquake that cracked its walls and disjoined vertical columns from beams and other lateral posts.
The judges who declined to be identified fear that another round of tremblor with 5.7 intensity in the Richter Scale would send the four-storey structure crashing down.
The Hall of Justice was just 20 years old but it’s the only one in the city which sustained massive cracks after the quake. Other buildings, erected circa pre-wartime yet, were unscathed. That only shows that much older structures in Iloilo City are far way sturdier than the Hall of Justice.
The Hall of Justice was erected in 1990 from a P150 million budget facilitated by then justice secretary Franklin Drilon.
Controversies hounded it: the architect-consultant resigned in protest to unauthorized changes in the specs by the contractor. The contractor just built it its own way even at the point of violating approved plans and specifications. Public suspicion of thievery hounded it even in the post-construction period.
The guy who profited much from the hanky-panky flaunts himself hereabout as champion of good governance. He will start his new job as member of the Lower House come July 1. He is lucky to have wound his way to the inner circle of “Tuwid na Landas” with no less than a certain Kris Nakatlan and the Aquino sisters as his endorsers, among others.
The earthquake tended to bolster that public suspicion. At a forum February 2013 with DPWH consultants, judges and lawyers argued with consultants who insisted that the structure was “basically strong structurally” and that it would be a crime to demolish it as as demanded by the local bar and bench. It would mean spending P200 million plus to build a new one.
The consultant admitted his team failed to excavate deep enough to determine the strength of the piles due to water seeping in but assured his audience – judges and lawyers – that the public edifice enjoyed the presumption of regularity in its construction “after all those (20) years in service.”
RTC Judge Victor Gelvezon remonstrated: “I thought presumption of regularity applies only to legal discussions… the first time I heard it also applies on engineering designs”.
The DPWH a month after the quake condemned the building being a public risk already. Months later, they sang a different tune: they recommended “retrofitting” that would cost only P26 million.
As I visited the city court June 13, 2013, I took photos of parts of the retrofitting.
I am not an engineer but I fully agree with court personnel that the ongoing works merely confirm our fears: the building stands on an unsound base. The steel re-bars, visible from chipped-off, columns were small and spaced far in between, contrary to DPWH assurances that they were strong because they had been “pre-stressed” (what’s that animal again?).
The pictures show the inferior steel re-bars being buttressed by new foundation with bigger steel re-bars which are spaced closely by about mere 3-inches apart. Compare that to the old beam which had steel re-bars half the size and spaced more than 6 inches apart.
One story on the ongoing retrofitting favored the workers. While they were draining the excavation of one foundation, they were able to catch a mudfish weighing nearly a kilo. Where did that fish come from, Peter Jimenea?
It deserves its real name: Hall of Just Tiis.