Season of heritage ‘massacre’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Season of heritage ‘massacre’

In the aftermath of Manila’s heritage “massacre,” the question has been asked whether the construction of the 47-floor Torre de Manila violates the law. Nothing beats asking Trixie Cruz Angeles, the country’s primary heritage lawyer who played a principal role in crafting the National Cultural Heritage Law as embodied in Republic Act No. 10066.

There are those who say that there does not seem to be any violation at all, arguing that the building site is not historical (true) and that the construction site lies outside the prescribed 10-meter buffer zone of a historical site (true as well). Trixie, who does litigation work aside from her duties at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and as a postgraduate student in archaeology at UP Diliman, came up with a curt one-liner: “The law protects settings and spaces.”

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Coming from the expert in heritage law, that was enough to boost the confidence of heritage advocates crying foul over Torre de Manila. It was time therefore to check what the law says and to verify the gist of that short statement from lawyer Angeles. But first, a brief explanation of a particular principle used in heritage conservation.

Sometime in the previous year, there was public uproar in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental. Residents were up in arms over the archbishop’s plan to chop down century-old acacia trees that handsomely lined the church plaza, considered a historical site by the residents of that city. In its place would have arisen a commercial building that, at that time, already had a waiting list of choice occupants, among them popular fast-food chain giants. The archbishop justified the move, saying money was needed for the healthcare of sick and aging clergy.

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But a church heritage expert had a contrary opinion, invoking a principle in heritage conservation not specifically articulated in the law but is in fact heavily implied by RA 10066—the principle of vista corridor, which includes unhampered visual and physical integrity of a historical or heritage site.

Checking RA 10066, one indeed begins to understand Angeles’ claim that “the law protects settings and spaces.” Beginning with the law’s declaration of principles: “[T]he State shall endeavor to create a balanced atmosphere where the historic past coexists with modern society.” Albeit sounding like a motherhood statement as all declarations of principles are, there alone one already finds applicable allusions to the Torre de Manila case.

It is argued that Torre de Manila does not lie on a historical site and is in fact outside the Luneta’s buffer zone; let us further read into the law. Under Section 3, “built heritage” is defined as one that includes “their settings and landscapes with notable historical and cultural significance.” Amen.

The law defines “conservation” as referring to “all the processes and measures of maintaining the cultural significance of a cultural property.” There’s no question that the principle of vista corridor is an accepted, international standard of conservation. Section 15 states, “The appropriate cultural agency shall approve only those methods and materials that strictly adhere to the international standards of conservation.” That is exactly the principle our national cultural agencies, including nongovernment advocates such as the Heritage Conservation Society, have clothed their arguments with.

But this is not all. In the same definition of terms, “cultural heritage” refers to “the totality of cultural property preserved and developed through time and passed on to posterity.” By this time, we can even see more clearly that, in fact, “the law protects settings and spaces.”

There should be no doubt in our minds: Torre de Manila violates the visual and physical integrity of the Rizal Monument, and the views of those who are crying foul over its construction are very much in consonance with the established law. The Rizal Monument is a marked site, which automatically gives it the status of an Important Cultural Property as the law prescribes; not only that, the same law avers that an Immovable National Cultural Treasure “shall not be relocated, rebuilt, defaced, or otherwise changed in a manner which would destroy the property’s dignity and authenticity.” That act of defacing includes altering a heritage site’s vista corridor because it is part of the site’s total landscape and, therefore, of its dignity.

Since we are in the season of heritage massacres, expect more massacres to come. One possible candidate for the wrecking ball is the century-old house that belonged to the descendants of Jose Maria Basa, a colleague of Rizal.

Located on the street formerly called Lepanto in the University Belt, the ownership of the house passed on to the family of Cristina Roco Corona. The Rocos recently sold the property to a Chinese businessman. It was to the Basa family that Juan Luna gave his small replica of the “La Batalla de Lepanto” painting, probably believing that the family associated with Rizal and who lived on the street with the same name will take care of it for posterity. He was of course correct, except that the Rocos sold it to Imelda Marcos, hence the painting now hangs in Malacañang. Not bad. But the house that once sheltered an important relic of our past may soon meet its fate in another massacre waiting to happen. Bad.

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TAGS: Metro, National Cultural Heritage Law, news, Rizal Park, Torre de Manila
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