Torre de Manila destroyed legal activism | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

Torre de Manila destroyed legal activism

/ 05:12 AM November 06, 2017

AMSTERDAM — The Torre de Manila case destroyed legal activism, but not in the way you think. We must confront how both majority and dissenting justices rejected activists’ arguments to demolish the building overlooking Luneta Park.

An April 27 Manila Times column lambasted “self-proclaimed pop historian Ambeth Ocampo” for opining that Jose Rizal never wanted any monument to mark his grave, and justices for “complicity” in this “defense.”


The problem is this cannot possibly make sense.

The Supreme Court ruled 9-6 that no law prohibited the Torre’s construction, as the column itself explained. Rizal’s — more so Ocampo’s — thoughts are clearly not a law and thus had no bearing. Indeed, both the decision and dissent discussed Rizal’s wishes in mere afterwords.


Frustratingly, public debate still has no resemblance to what the Supreme Court actually said.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio wrote the decision. His typical focus on explicit legal language is lethal in a ruling that concludes there is no explicit law. He rejected each alleged ground one by one. For example, the Venice Charter that cultural advocates kept highlighting is not a treaty (and the Philippines never even signed it) and, thus, not a law.

In devastating Carpio fashion, he even noted that in 1955, petitioners Knights of Rizal themselves proposed to build a 29-meter high national theater which would have dwarfed the Rizal shrine. They made similar proposals as recently as 2013.

Yet Justice Francis Jardeleza’s dissent likewise threw out the Venice Charter and every other alleged authority the Knights cited. The case was so weak that Jardeleza did not even rule to demolish the Torre.

He instead raised that Manila City Ordinance No. 8119 requires the city to consider historical conservation in issuing building permits. The city should be ordered to reevaluate the Torre’s permit because it did not appear that conservation was considered, despite the ordinance.

Jardeleza’s dissent brilliantly laid a powerful philosophical basis for future cases. It outlined how our Constitution broadly supports conservation as national policy, then how specifics may be enforced in local government ordinances.

It was trademark Jardeleza in exploring principles underlying explicit legal language, an excellent foil to Carpio. It will become the hornbook citation for cultural preservation in the way Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.’s 1993 Oposa v. Factoran decision received global acclaim for empowering environmental activism.


There are three unacknowledged problems in how we discuss the Torre case. First, we disbelieve how the case was pursued with a stunning lack of ethics, a point edited out of the 28-page decision.

Knights lawyer William Jasarino openly declared during the hearings that the case had no legal basis, to the point that Justice Marvic Leonen hinted the case was unethical. Jasarino asked for a “writ of pamana,” a legal procedure that does not exist. Vocal advocates publicized theories that both Jardeleza and Jasarino discarded as baseless in the very first hearing.

Second, we fail to realize that the legal arguments were so obviously baseless that both majority and dissenting justices threw them out.

Third, our cultural activists still pound on discredited pet theories instead of preaching Jardeleza’s gospel. This is like benching LeBron James to put the water boy in the starting five.

Most tragic of all, this is not the first time. In the 2016 Marcos burial decision, both majority and dissenting justices also rejected the most publicized argument—because the law cited applied to a different cemetery.

After all the self-inflicted damage, is it not time for young lawyers and law students to fact check our activists? Is it not time for media to track who files high profile petitions that are consistently thrown out as baseless?

Is it not time to end the cycle of filing a baseless case for press release purposes, whipping up social media fury, then blaming the Supreme Court as hopelessly
corrupt when it inevitably loses?

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, legal activism, Oscar Franklin Tan, Rizal Monument, Sisyphus’ Lament, Supreme Court, Torre de Manila
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