POSTSCRIPT / November 8, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Foreign experts cleared Ayalas who hired them

WHAT WAS IT?: The Ayalas have to protect their name and business. We understand that. But they should be more forthcoming in their handling of the Oct. 19 blast at their Glorietta-2 mall in Makati that claimed 11 lives and injured more than 100 persons.

To dispel the joint police finding that the explosion resulted from the buildup in an enclosed place of deadly methane or sewer gas, the Ayalas hired their own investigators from abroad.

As expected, the Ayala investigators said the blast could not have been — as the police have reported — the result of an accident triggered by the methane gas buildup.

If it was not an accident, what caused it? The experts hired by Ayala could not or did not (as I write this) say what did. It seemed they were not ready to lend their names to the opposing theory that the explosion was the handiwork of terrorists.

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INSIDER INFO: As we read the Ayalas’ announcements of the conclusions of the investigators that they had hired, I received notes from an insider familiar with the technical details. He said:

“There is no crater. The first group of experienced investigators could have seen it if there was one. In fact, that is what they tried to discover, because the first impression was that it was a bomb explosion.

“The power of a bomb explosion is the amount of concussion it can generate. The bigger or stronger the bomb, the greater the damage.

“The blast of a methane explosion is entirely different, because the whole structure that is full of the gas explodes. The destruction is more devastating, hence, the extreme damage at Glorietta-2.”

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IGNITION: Our informant went on: “Ignition? How can they be so blind? The motors and switches should have been isolated. They should never have been integrated in the basement with the sewer effluence.

“When an electric motor starts, the initial high resistance between the brushes and commulator causes a spark. If the system is poorly maintained, the sparking continues, resulting in the early replacement of the brushes.

“But this is not a problem of the sump pumps, because these are submerged in a well to catch the water occasioned by the high water table in Makati.

“The investigators found other electric motors that power other equipment, all stored in the same basement. The sump pumps are automatic, depending on the water level in the pump well. The switching panel is above ground in the basement.”

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WRONG TANK: He added: “That 4,000-liter diesel tank is all wrong. It should not be there. Also, it should be cylindrical. But it is rectangular. It should have been buried like all tanks of similar use. Instead, it sits on ground zero.

“All flammable liquids evaporate. That is why these are provided with breather pipes exhausting high above ground.

“The tremendous blast that blew the concrete slab upward also caused the tank to compress, precisely because its flat side area exposed to the blast is much greater than the rounded side of a cylindrical tank.”

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HELP VICTIMS: The Ayalas’ apparent attitude has prompted many responsible quarters to advise them to open their minds, and their pockets, a bit more and at least help the victims.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was more direct. He urged the Ayala family and their executives to take full responsibility for the explosion instead of attempting to blame others.

“The Ayalas cannot just haphazardly put the blame on anyone while saving themselves from very credible findings of miscalculations and neglect on their part,” he said.

For proof of the negligence of the Glorietta owners and managers, the senator pointed to the old submersible pump recovered with a jumper by police investigators at the basement of the mall.

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DEADLY BUILDUP: Enrile cited the police findings that the explosion resulted from a buildup of deadly gas. This conclusion has been backed by volunteer security experts from the United States, Australia, and Israel.

After inspecting the blast site, the American, Australian, and Israeli experts assisting police investigators ruled out bombing. They noted the absence of bomb parts. The police could not find residues of any explosive or components of a bomb.

The Israeli experts said the buildup of gases such as methane, plus oxygen, especially in a “closed volume” can cause an explosion so devastating it could bring down an entire building.

Israel security expert David Nevo said that such a blast could be even more powerful than the usual terrorist bomb.

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COSTLY ACCIDENT: Enrile said: “The Ayalas cannot shift the burden of responsibility as these (American, Australian, and Israeli) experts who corroborated findings of the police are volunteer experts, not paid investigators.”

“If the explosion was a terrorist act, do (the Ayalas) think the US and the other countries will not immediately come forward and denounce what happened in Glorietta?” he asked. “The fact is they don’t, precisely because it was not the handiwork of terrorists.”

He added that the Ayalas “must remain true to their much publicized image as a responsible developer and good corporate citizen.”

But it would be costly for the Ayalas to admit the blast was an accident — which implies negligence. Damage claims and demands for assistance, running into hundreds of million pesos, would rain on them.

Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, for his part, has to follow the Ayala line that it was not an accident, because he and other City Hall officials could become the object of legal and administrative charges for their failure to check the safety, health and other violations.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 8, 2007)

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