“In other words, Rizal as our hero deserves no less than a hero’s monument and sole ownership of the landscape in which he is buried and honored.”
by Ducky Paredes
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has joined the critics of a condominium project near Rizal Park in Manila, and agrees that the structure would spoil the view of the monument of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. A statement signed by NCCA chair Felipe de Leon Jr., the agency “expressed concern on the construction of a multistory condominium that affects the sightlines of the revered Rizal Monument.” The statement, dated Aug. 27 and e-mailed to media offices on Friday, reffered to Torre De Manila, a DMCI project along Taft Avenue and near Rizal Park (also known as Luneta), which would be 49 stories tall once finished.
“As the primary agency tasked with creating and implementing policy on culture and the arts, the commission adheres to the highest standards of conservation and protection of sites and structures. This is based on the principle that heritage sites such as the Rizal Monument are of such national significance that the commission also holds its visual context on the same level of importance,” it said.
“In other words, Rizal as our hero deserves no less than a hero’s monument and sole ownership of the landscape in which he is buried and honored,” it stressed.
“To this end, the commission laments the interference and visual distractions of the condominium tower, a commercial structure that seems to mar our reverence for Jose Rizal and violates the historic setting that gives a fitting dimension to his place in our nation’s history.”
The NCCA called on lawmakers to “consult with our experts and enact appropriate laws to protect the visual landscapes and other such vistas that form an integral part of our heritage.”
Despite an online campaign launched by cultural activist Carlos Celdran against Torre, the project was approved by the Manila city building official in 2012 under then Mayor Alfredo Lim. It was later questioned in the city council, under the current administration of Mayor Joseph Estrada, but was eventually given the approval to proceed with the construction.
Public attention to the project was revived on Wednesday when Sen. Pia Cayetano conducted an inquiry, during which DMCI lawyer Roel Pacio admitted that the project “exceeded” the floor-to-area ratio set by the Manila Zoning Ordinance for the site but was nevertheless granted a permit by the city building official.
Reached for comment on Friday regarding the NCCA statement, Pacio and DMCI Holdings Inc. president Isidro Consunji both cited a Nov. 6, 2012, letter from another government agency—the National Historical Commission of the Philippines—which maintained that the project did not violate any law pertaining to the Rizal Monument.
“That is other people’s opinion,” Consunji said in an interview, referring to the NCCA’s position. “We have all the permits to build it.”
“As far as we know, we have all the permits and licenses to develop,” he added in a separate interview.
Groups protesting the construction of a towering condominium that they say ruins the people’s view of Jose Rizal’s monument are gearing up for a legal battle to get the building demolished.
As the construction of the 46-story Torre de Manila continued, the Knights of Rizal told the Senate on Thursday it would file a petition for injunction in the Supreme Court against the building.
Wrapping up a hearing on the condominium’s impact on the country’s heritage, Sen. Pia Cayetano recommended that the groups consult acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay on possible legal options.
The options, she said, could involve getting the condominium demolished.
“Within the next two weeks, we will file the case to permanently stop the construction,” lawyer Willie Jasarino, member of the Knights of Rizal, said in an interview.
Pressed if this was geared to its eventual demolition, he said: “We’re shooting for the moon. We will ask for that.”
Elizabeth Espino, executive director of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), said the view among the groups favored demolition.
“That seems to be the consensus,” she said in an interview.
Cayetano recommended this should be one of the options of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), NPDC and the Knights of Rizal, among others.
Cayetano advised them to consult the solicitor general.
“My recommendation to them is explore (their) options,” she said. “If our cultural heritage, these national treasures, are desecrated or the … vista points … cannot be secured and protected unless it’s demolished, then that is an option,” she told reporters.
But she added this was an option they had to study “on their own,” saying she could only make recommendations. “That’s outside my territory.”
Isidro Consunji, chair of DMCI Homes, builder of the condominium, did not respond to the committee’s invitation to attend the hearing.
The Senate committee on education, arts and culture, chaired by Cayetano, opened an inquiry into the issue after netizens and conservationists raised a hue and cry about it.
The condominium is being built right across Rizal Park.
An online Change.org petition and netizens had opposed the condominium, derisively calling it “Terror de Manila” and “Pambansang Photobomb” because it would ruin the iconic sight line of the national shrine.
At the hearing, Espino of NPDC, which oversees Rizal Park and Paco Park, asked the committee what could be done to stop the building’s continued rise at the rate of three stories a week.
She said that DMCI had 28 more floors to build.
Cayetano suggested that the NPDC, NHCP, NCCA and the Knights of Rizal meet with the solicitor general soonest and “discuss options how to find a way to stop this.”
After all, the solicitor general would represent the interest of the government, she said.
It was at this point that Jasarino of the Knights of Rizal disclosed that they would file a petition for injunction with a “prayer” for the issuance of a temporary restraining order.
Former Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz-Araneta, a descendant of Rizal, said she was perplexed why the builders could not apply their appreciation for heritage sites abroad here in the country.
“The owners of these big companies, they went to the best schools in the Philippines and abroad. They’re the ones who travel abroad very often. And they’re the ones who marvel at the conservation works done in Europe, even in China, in Malaysia, Singapore. Why can’t they apply it here?” she said.
Cayetano said this was a matter of “political will.”
At the hearing, Cayetano observed that DMCI committed “bad faith” when it continued to build the condominium from 2012 to 2014 when its zoning permit limited construction to seven stories in terms of floor area.
Citing the testimony of resource persons, she said DMCI secured a zoning permit in June 2012 that allowed them to build only up to seven stories if the gross floor area were computed.
And DMCI was allowed to deviate from its earlier permit in an exemption granted by the Manila Zoning Board of Adjustments and approved by the city council last January, Cayetano said.
“So that means that from June 2012 to January 2014, they were in bad faith. So to me the law is very clear, if you are in bad faith, you pay for the damages of whatever cost you incurred and whatever further damages to the environment are and to other persons,” Cayetano told reporters.
Asked if she would recommend the prosecution of DMCI, she said: “If I recommend prosecution, which most likely I will, I will cite existing laws to that exten.
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I am glad to admit that I do not know how crazy minds work. For instance, if you want to punish the Chinese for what they are doing to our country — taking over some of our islands and putting up airstrips in some of them, I do not understand how setting off a car bomb in NAIA 3 will accomplish anything positive. Certainly, that will not scare the Chinese from our shores. If anything, that might even encourage them to keep up the pressure. After all, a car bomb exploding in the parking lot of the main airport of the country has to mean that the country is under attack. If the idea of the car bomb is to scare away the Chinese invading force, might it not just achieve the exact opposite.
Why would any right-thinking Filipino want to bomb his country’ main airport? Why would that serve any useful purpose for the Philippines?
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Readers who missed a column can access www.duckyparedes.com/blogs. This is updated daily. Your reactions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send me a message through Twitter @diretsahan.
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hvp 09.08.14Readers who missed a column can access www.duckyparedes.com/blogs. This is updated daily. Your reactions are welcome at email@example.com or you can send me a message through Twitter @diretsahan.