Is the proposed Philippine Building Act a bane or a boon?

December 1, 2020 | By: Arch. Benjamin K. Panganiban, Jr., (first published in The Manila Times last December 1, 2020))

SOMETIME in 2015, then chairman of the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) Dr. Florentino Doble came out with a letter addressed to the House Speaker in Congress delineating the responsibilities of each technical professional group. It was the mandate of the PRC as a regulatory body of all professional groups to protect and safeguard the exercise of all professions in the interest of public safety and welfare.

This was apparently an offshoot of legal entanglements in the design and built industry as some professional regulated laws were subjected to various interpretations of their scope of works, including various interpretations of certain provisions of the National Building Code of the Philippines (NBCP) and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). Technical professionals have always referred to the NBCP when designing and constructing vertical structures.

The purpose of the NBCP is the safety of the inhabitants, general welfare of the building users and public health. Its basic law is written in detail and has been updated through the years. It lays down the rules and regulations for all technical professionals to follow, harmonizes the scope of works of each profession, institutionalizes the manner of design and construction and the proper use of materials. This is to ensure that the structures will be environment-friendly, utilized properly, functionally stable, architecturally acceptable and resilient to climatic conditions. It is a guide for all buildings and real estate projects.

The NBCP as a basic law is specific in nature. Supported by its IRR, the various reference standards, memoranda and different professional regulatory laws align technical professionals in the work they do.

In the House of Representatives is a bill known as the proposed Philippine Building Act. Its purpose is to regulate the planning, design, construction, occupancy and maintenance of buildings, promoting building resilience versus fire, flood, storm, earthquake, and multiple hazards. Its other purpose is to repeal the National Building Code of the Philippines. What started as an amendment to the NBCP on addressing calamity concerns turned out eventually to be a substitution bill by the proponents in Congress.

All entities affected by this bill include the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP). The UAP had manifested several comments and proposals to the bill, the last major proposal of which was submitted in the first week of October 2020. However, these important proposals seem to be set aside by the Technical Working Group and the Committee on Public Works as the proponents apparently wanted this particular bill to be very generic in nature and address changes in the IRR. A substitution bill was approved by the committee on Nov. 19, 2020 as the UAP president was seen raising his hand to manifest their comments and concerns that will affect the other technical professions, including architects. It seems the bill was fast tracked. The UAP is one of major players affected by the National Building Code and the proposed Philippine Building Act.

The proposals raised by the UAP in support of the other technical professionals are valid as the proposed basic law should be clear from the start in upholding public safety. Building professionals as mentioned in the proposed bill do not name these professionals. The definition of each building professional and their scope of works is not given. Therefore, confusion will arise later in the IRR. The reference standards of each technical profession should have not been mentioned and should also be referred to at the onset since they have to be identified as basis for each profession’s work.

While the position of the proponents to this bill is noteworthy, the proposed bill on the Philippine Building Act seems to be very generic and lacking for other technical professions.

It is open to a lot of interpretations. This bill which is supposed to be a technical law apparently does not mention architectural, electrical, plumbing, sanitary and electronic engineering not even once, yet apparently mentions “structural” 45 times. In fact, the peer reviewer mentioned here is only coming from one specialty profession and not of the other technical professions. It seemingly does not represent all the other professions in the industry. A basic law should be clear, concise and direct to the point. If this is the case, why do the proponents not just amend the referral standard of the Structural Code of the Philippines to make the code adapt to building resiliency amid the calamities and insert it in the NBCP? Why repeal the existing NBCP when it had gone through several updates and amendments in the past? In fact, the NBCP had been refined through the years, making it more specific and in tune with the present times.

The way to go in addressing building resilient designs, eradicating possible graft and corruption, and easing the process of doing business are amendments to the NBCP and the proper implementation of the NBCP. The responsibilities and liabilities of the right professionals are indicated in the ancillary permits for which the building officials should not be held liable for defects most of the time. Lastly, the NBCP involves all technical professionals because it deals with habitable structures. So, is the proposed bill of the Philippine Building Act a bane or a boon to the public?

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