Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Schizophrenia from Torre de Manila

OF HERITAGE conservation advocates, there are two types: the learned and the academically trained; and the plain and simple advocates, who love Filipino heritage and may not be academically trained, but their breed has been advancing in numbers in recent years. One does not ignore their existence. Of late, however, the heritage advocacy population has been mired in a state of confusion.

The impasse is palpable and the reason is obvious. In the Torre de Manila debacle, two of government’s major cultural agencies, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), have joined forces in the legal battle to protect the vista corridor of the Rizal Monument. It is a concept that is nothing novel and nothing alien, and is widely practiced in many countries of the world. Solicitor General Florin Hilbay leads the government side. One would therefore expect a solid government voice on the issue. Cultural preservation is a function of the state for it is the state that is primarily tasked to protect heritage.

But the expected solidity was not to be obtained. The other major cultural agency of the state tasked to protect historical sites, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), came up with a disparate stance: that the Torre de Manila developer, DM Consunji Inc. (DMCI), did not violate heritage laws. We are in a rather bizarre controversy where a government agency is in a clash with its counterpart cultural agencies and, worse, with the official legal position of the state.

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It is ugly enough that government cannot speak with one unified voice on the issue. What has brought about the dissonance seems to be a differing interpretation of heritage laws and, ironically, a static view of history that does not take into account the dynamics of contemporary history meaning-making.

For reference, take note that all the major cultural agencies of the state, namely the NMP, NHCP, the National Library of the Philippines, the National Archives of the Philippines, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, are all represented in the board of commissioners of the NCCA. One can thus imagine the tension of divergence only because one agency opted to be the odd one out. But the greatest damage is on the Filipino public for it is primarily the state that educates us on heritage and culture.

It has been said that the NHCP deems Republic Act No. 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, as having “no exactitude” on the matter of vista corridors which is the main area of contention in the Torre de Manila issue. In the NCCA board, the NHCP representation made it clear they “will not implement RA 10066.” Can a government agency do that, our plain lay people’s brains are asking. Does a government agency have the option not to implement a duly legislated law of the land? And if it chooses not to follow the law, what are its sanctions? Is it tantamount to nonfeasance, the intentional failure to perform a required duty or obligation?

RA 10086, Strengthening Peoples’ Nationalism Through Philippine History Act, which changed the name of the National Historical Institute to National Historical Commission of the Philippines, was promulgated into law on May 12, 2010. Interestingly for the lay minds among us, this law includes in its definition of “built heritage”… “sites and landscapes with notable historical and cultural significance.” If we are looking for “exactitude,” there will be none precisely because “landscape” is not just physically bounded, it is also sensed by sight.

The same law that created the NHCP in fact defines “conservation” as “ALL processes and measures of maintaining the cultural significance of a cultural property, including, but not limited to, physical, social, or legal preservation, restoration, reconstruction, protection, or adaptation or any combination thereof.” A lay mind can easily see the encompassing range of that statement. Heritage preservation, in recent years, has evolved into a social science with its own principles and frameworks. It is not a body of maxims. As for experts, we are not bereft of them. The Supreme Court should have called in Augusto Villalon who has scientific expertise on the matter.

As expressed in the same law, the NHCP has the “authority to determine all factual matters relating to official Philippine history,” but it made serious errors instead in its feeble defense of DMCI. That Rizal only wanted a simple burial has been rendered immaterial—his only brother Paciano was part of the committee that oversaw the monument’s creation. As pointed out by NMP Director Jeremy Barns, the money raised was contributed by the Filipino public. It goes without saying that history is dynamic.

One lesson for the NCCA is its serious lack of learned heritage scholars and experts among its present middle leadership. For instance, no heritage lawyer sits in its National Committee on Monuments and Sites which should have taken a more forceful participation on the issue.

For the NHCP, its image has been seriously damaged. Already there are calls to amend RA 10086 to revert it back to its historical research institute status. If it must err, it should err on the side of the law. What does it profit the country by openly defying the official government position? The resistance creates another blight on the Aquino administration, giving the impression that there are untouchables among cultural leaders because of their ties to the powers-that-be. Another unnecessary layer is added to its already worrisome image—of promoting a culture of selective impunity.

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No, Torre de Manila must fall. And the schizophrenics? Charge them with nonfeasance.

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TAGS: Heritage, historical, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Museum of the Philippines, NCCA, NMP, opinion, Torre de Manila
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