So much for heritage | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

So much for heritage

/ 12:30 AM May 11, 2017

In an ironic welcome to the month of May—designated as Heritage Month—the Supreme Court junked on April 25 the petition filed by the Knights of Rizal, and lifted its 2015 temporary restraining order on the construction of the controversial Torre de Manila that has been described as “the national photo bomber” by virtue of its defacing of the visual corridors of the Rizal Monument.

“The court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter; the petitioners have no standing to sue, and they stand to suffer no injury,” the high court said in its ruling. It also said there is no law that prohibits the construction of the 49-story condominium building.

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The Knights of Rizal had cited the “Guidelines on Monuments Honoring National heroes, Illustrious Filipinos and Other Personages” of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), which provide that historic monuments should assert a visual “dominance” over the surroundings, and that “vista points” and “visual corridors” to monuments must be kept “clear for unobstructed viewing and appreciation and photographic opportunities.”

Having been declared a National Cultural Treasure, the Rizal Monument is entitled to the full protection of the law, the Knights of Rizal had said.

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Expectedly, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, citing the projected additional income to the local government, as well as the construction jobs it could generate. It was the city government of Manila that granted the developers, DMCI Homes, the necessary permits, licenses and variance for the construction of the high-rise. (A variance is defined in zoning law as “an official permit to use property in a manner that departs from the way in which other property in the same locality [has been] used.)

DMCI counsel Victor Lazatin admitted to the justices during the oral arguments on the case in August 2015 that the firm was actually entitled to build only 18 floors, but that it proceeded with the 49-floor plan after getting the variance.

The firm said that under the National Building Code, it was actually entitled to build up to 66 floors with the same footprint. It insisted that the Torre de Manila “does not stand on a national heritage site,” and that the National Building Code “does not prescribe height limits for buildings.”

According to NHCP chair Rene Escalante, the high court’s ruling shows how our present laws are sorely lacking and inadequate in preserving important cultural properties. “We hope that Congress reexamines our existing laws on historical and cultural heritage and enact appropriate amendments. Doing so will prevent a repetition and end uncertainties, and thereby allow modern development to proceed alongside the conservation of our nation’s cultural assets,” he said.

The Torre de Manila case remains an issue of concern especially as our cities experience what Meliton Juanico, a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman and a licensed environmental planner, describes as “the reurbanization phase.” This is characterized by intensifying urban renewal activities in the city center, the victims of which are mainly the heritage, cultural and historical structures and sites including the Jai Alai Building on which, ironically, the Torre de Manila now rises.

Aside from amending the National Cultural Heritage Act and other related laws, Juanico pushed as well for an intensified national information and education campaign on the continuing relevance of historic sites and cultural properties.

And Congress should in fact take note of the public support for cultural properties generated by this case. The Knights of Rizal, in accepting the Supreme Court’s decision, said as much: “We thank the public for carrying this issue with us and for making the same a test case for Philippine heritage. The public support that was expressed in favor of our stand was an indication not only of the importance of the national monument but also to the continued reverence for our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.”

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TAGS: 2015 temporary restraining order, Heritage Month, Knights of Rizal, Supreme Court, the national photo bomber, Torre de Manila
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