Sponsorship Speech for the creation of the Separate Office of the Local Building Official

4 March 2015

Good afternoon. I take the floor today to report out the findings of your Committee on Local Government, as embodied in Committee Report No. 109, taking into consideration Senate Bill No. 2235, which seeks to mandate the creation of the separate office of a local building official in cities and 1st-class and 2nd-class municipalities, by amending Sections 443, 454, and 477 of Republic Act No. 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991.

The local engineer is one of the officials whose appointment is mandated by the Local Government Code in provinces, cities, municipalities. Under the Code, one of the responsibilities entrusted with the local engineer is to “exercise such other powers and perform such other duties and functions as may be prescribed by law or ordinance.”

And one such law that prescribes duties and functions is the National Building Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 1096). Enacted in 1977, the National Building Code was meant to “provide for all buildings and structures, a framework of minimum standards and requirements to regulate and control their location, site, design quality of materials, construction, use, occupancy, and maintenance” with a view to building and maintaining them in “safe, sanitary and good working condition”.

Under the National Building Code, the enforcement and implementation of the its provisions were vested upon the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), through the “building officials.”

However, it was the city and municipal engineers, who were made to “act” as the default building officials within their respective territorial jurisdictions.

Although appointees of the local chief executives, these “building officials” were expressly mandated to fall under the administrative supervision of the DPWH, for their special designation or acting capacity under the Building Code.

Section 205 of the National Building Code further provided that the designation “shall continue until regular positions of Building Official are provided or unless sooner terminated for causes provided by law or decree.”

Then, in 1991, Republic Act No. 7160 was enacted, thus statutorily confirming with finality what used to be a mere temporary designation of the local engineer as concurrent building official.

Hence, Section 477 of the Local Government Code stated:

The appointment of an engineer shall be mandatory for the provincial, city and municipal governments. The city and municipal engineer shall also act as the local building official. (Section 477, R.A. No. 7160)

For almost twenty-five years since the enactment of the Local Government Code, local engineers have juggled dual roles, acting as concurrent building officials in their respective areas as mandated by the National Building Code.

But juggling such manifold roles by a singular official proved to be no mean feat.

The duties of the local engineer outlined in the Local Government Code are already immense as they are; the additional duties imposed by the National Building Code can be too overbearing for local engineers constrained by manpower and resources.

As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Works, this representation has heard bills and conducted inquiries in aid of legislation on various issues from the need to amend our Building Code, which is of 1977 vintage, to the disaster resiliency of our buildings and structures, to the so-called practice of “green building”, even stretching to extremes, like proposal to impose the penalty of reclusion perpetua upon erring and neglectful local building officials.

All these put in the spotlight not only the implementation of the National Building Code, but more importantly, the inadequacy in its enforcement and the weakness in the regulatory framework.

Well-meaning local engineers/building officials have come forward in various public hearings of the Senate Committee on Public Works, both admitting and lamenting the fact that they could not possibly comply with all the duties and responsibilities of their dual positions without much difficulty. In fact, several of our city and municipal governments have addressed such an overbearing situation by creating, through ordinance, a separate office of the local building official.

Based on the data provided by the DPWH, an overwhelming majority of our cities and municipalities have made do with their local engineers acting as local building officials. Among the notable exceptions are the seventeen (17) Aklan, fourteen (14) Pangasinan, ten (10) Cebu, and ten (10) Metro Manila LGUs, which have created an office of the local building official, separate from the office of the local engineer.

Your Committee on Local Government is of the firm and considered opinion that Congress should strengthen the regulatory framework and address the organizational inefficiencies in the local government units caused by the dual roles being played by the local engineer, for this impacts on our ability to enforce several existing laws and regulations, and Referral Codes, such as but not limited to the Architectural Code, Philippine Electrical Code, Revised Plumbing Code, Structural Code, Mechanical Engineering Code, as well as future ones, like “green building” laws.

Moreover, this is all the more made urgent considering the confluence of several factors that are being faced by our communities now. First and foremost: the rapid urbanization of our communities.

The Philippine Statistics Authority notes a twenty-one percent (21%) increase in approved building permits in 2014, with total construction value increasing by one hundred percent (100%) more than the previous year.

And these are just the recorded data based on the approved building permits in the country.

We too must accept the sad fact that several constructions are being undertaken all over the country without even bothering to apply for building permits at all.

It has been observed that this present “construction boom” in our country is due not only to the sustained growth of our tourism and business, high OFW remittances, and other indicators of economic progress, but also to our government’s own drive to reconstruct typhoon-ravaged homes and address the housing backlog.

Second, our communities are faced with more frequent and worsening disasters, both man-made and those caused by natural hazards, most notably storms and earthquakes.

Especially now that our country has been attuned to the present global standard of care of “disaster risk reduction and management”, emphasized the need for more resilient buildings, and the battle cry of “build back better” in case of destruction wrought by disasters.

All these responsibilities—ensuring disaster-preparedness and mitigation, and disaster-proofing of our homes and buildings, determination of what “building better”, etc. is—fall upon our local government units.

In fact, let us all remember that the Department of Interior and Local Government is the Vice-Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 or R.A. No. 10121.

Therefore, Congress should strengthen the regulatory framework within our local government units and create a separate office of the local building official in cities and municipalities, in order to justly distribute and transfer to an equally qualified professional the equally important responsibilities required of the local engineer under the National Building Code, including site inspections, examination and approval of plans and permits.

Indeed, according to the Local Government Code, the State should ensure that there shall be “more responsive and accountable local government structure” and “accountable, efficient, and dynamic organizational structure and operating mechanism that will meet the priority needs and service requirements of its communities”.

We can definitely be assured that this improvement of the regulatory framework in our local government units shall lay the foundation for further and corollary improvement in our building laws and rules, as well as in their enforcement.

As to financial resources, the local building officials are authorized to collect fees and charges in line with their enforcement and regulatory powers under the National Building Code, which shall accrue to the fund of the local government units concerned.

These powers and provisions in the National Building Code have been replicated and embedded into our draft bill being submitted to this august Chamber.

Please allow me to end by recalling the collapse of Ruby Tower in 1968, and the burning of Ozone Disco in 1996.

Both these tragic and deplorable events, which claimed the lives of many members of our communities, involved ill-fated structures and traced their roots to neglectful enforcement of our building laws.

In the November 2014 decision of the Sandiganbayan, which convicted several persons, including local engineers and local building officials, it was mentioned that the Ozone Disco incident could have been prevented had it not been for the “slapdash approval of the building permits and certificate of occupancy” and “lackadaisical screening of the paper requirements”.

Let us strengthen and capacitate our local government units by giving them the necessary manpower and competencies, aided by adequate financial resources, to afford them a fair means and opportunity to strictly comply with the mandate of our building laws and regulations, this is in order to prevent the needless loss of lives and properties in the future, owing to the dangers posed by unmonitored and unregulated, weak, substandard and disaster-prone buildings and structures.

I highly urge all our colleagues in this Chamber and in Congress to support the passage of this bill.

Thank you and good afternoon.