Friday, September 21st, 2018

Isabela House (Construction Log 21) The Beauracracy Runs on Filipino Time


Next week should prove very interesting.

We have been told that a notice will be issued by the city engineers department although the content is at present unknown by any of this staff. When we visited city hall on Monday to ask about the overdue fencing permit the city engineer referred to a problem with the building permit but as he signed it there obviously isn’t. Now it seems the reason for sitting on our fencing permit has changed from a problem with the building permit to a problem with the building. So we don’t know where we are!

Two engineers from city hall visited the site on Tuesday and Wednesday and with the aid of the full house plans measured things and took a bore test outside the dirty kitchen presumably to measure the compaction of what they thought was backfill but is actually a combination of the debris built up when drainage holes are dug after the backfill has been completed as well as the original gravel. To our knowledge there is no requirement for these external areas of backfill to be re-compacted. Provided the building itself is on properly compacted backfill, which we know with certainty it is, there is no further requirement. We know also that the height of the backfill was carefully measured by Northcon many times over so suggestions that the height is not consistent with the approved plan makes no sense. Measuring an area that has gained rubble from sanitation trenchworks is clearly invalid as this will be removed when the trenches are fillled in, and anyway it is beside, not under the building. So we watch events next week with interest.

Our contractor, Northcon, has assured us they will act on whatever the notice contains. The city engineer has a right to inspect and raise notices but the basis of any notice has to be valid. Northcon are meticulous in their measuring and testing and engage an external government agency for the most critical ones. We don’t think the city engineer is aware of these independent government test results so it could prove extremely embarrassing if they are at variance with those recorded by his own engineers.

In the meantime we appointed a lawyer yesterday to deal with the outstanding issue of the fencing permit which is being held back improperly by the city engineer. We felt it was preferable to engage a lawyer to protect our interests as we felt we were being lead on something of a wild goose chase by the city engineer. It has proved impossible to see him lately, despite waiting over an hour outside his office the other day, and subsequently we felt it was better to decline further invitations for meetings as we have no idea of the content or who we should take along to assist the discussions.

The city engineer has already acknowledged that there is no problem with our fencing permit application which was prepared by a young engineer within his own department. We have provided our lawyer with a complete copy of the fencing permit application papers which shows it has been signed off by everyone except the city engineer. Our lawyer will start by calling to discuss the matter with the city engineer. It’s always best to start by discussion rather than filing a complaint. Also in my professional life as a chartered accountant I have learned the importance of leaving a way out. That way nobody loses face and you don’t endanger building a positive relationship in the future.

I sent a friend invitation to the city engineer’s boss, the mayor, who is on Face book and desperate for every vote when she stands for re-election in May. A message accompanied the invite which I hope will prompt at least a conversation with her senior staffer. Of course the site is probably maintained by a secretary, so she may never get to read it. But I thought it was worth a try as we are rapidly losing patience together with respect for the whole permit system here in Santiago City. Enough is enough.

Yesterday afternoon we stopped by one of the local hollow block makers and ordered 400 size 5 hollow blocks for a replacement barangay hall chapel, keeping a promise we made earlier in the week to the captain. City hall only provides an annual budget of 1 million pesos to Patul barangay which has to cover everything. It is only through donations that they are able to provide the range of facilities to support the local community.

Last Thursday the barangay captain came out to our site in his official car (as he’s effectively the mayor of the barangay) with two associates and we discussed the situation with the fencing permit. He told us to go ahead and start construction of the perimeter wall and promised he would deal with any fallout with city hall.  However, our lawyer has advised against this and told us to wait until he has spoken with the city engineer, so we will wait. Time is on our side anyway as we have agreed to a 45 day extension with the main building contractor.

The captain introduced us to his associates one of whom runs a respected Cagayan area security agency providing armed security guards for a long list of business and private residences. While we have not seen any problems to justify this measure we will review the situation again once we move in. The barangay itself has its own police force who will respond immediately to any emergency call.

The two houses are looking more complete every day but I will not upload photographs until the changes are more obvious. Both roofs are receiving final welding of trusses and steel rod tie backs have been added to give the structures additional rigidity. Northcon have advised us that roofing materials are due here next week. There has been much welding of trusses to wall steelwork so that the walls and the roof effectively become one. The roof must weigh several tons anyway but this is distributed across the whole wall structure. Outside two sections of wall have received a trial coat of the exterior paint colour, all the moldings are now in place over windows and the front entrance, and drainage catch basins with lids have been created. Both septic tanks have been sealed with added manhole covers and the supports are ready to receive the pressurized tanks. Drainpipes have started to appear at the edge of roof and a very solid block of concrete, the base of the spiral staircase leading to the viewing balcony, is almost ready. Inside decorative wood has been added to the doorways, the kitchen and dirty kitchen cabinets are starting to take shape, and in our walk in closet, the wooden closet itself is almost finished. Interior doors are being carefully rubbed down ready to receive our approved shade of varnish and the security grilles for the windows have been designed, approved by us and ordered.

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