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Learning from London’s sense of ‘view’

NOTWITHSTANDING the silly and ridiculous propositions coming from some legislators as to what to do with the Rizal Monument, the Torre de Manila controversy offers an opening for local government units, the City of Manila certainly included, to address issues of heritage preservation.

It can begin with one very useful reference—the City of London and how it jealously protects the London panorama and its concept of views. The London model, in fact, is precisely based on the heritage preservation concept of the “vista corridor.” For those who believe that the uproar over Torre de Manila is arbitrary and has no basis, London is telling us to think again.

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The concept of what is known as the London Views actually addresses protected vistas. Take note of the adjective used. It declares, for example, that where a silhouette of a heritage site is identified as prominent in a townscape, preserving it must include a clear sky behind it. It further demands: “It should not be altered by new development appearing in its background.”

Hence, London Views requires “assessments to be made on the foreground, middle ground, or background of the view.” Why must the background be included? “The background of a view extends away from the foreground or middle ground into the distance. Part of the background may include built or landscape elements that provide a backdrop to a landmark.”

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Several suggestions, many of them downright silly, have been proposed in the event the Supreme Court rules in favor of DMCI, the building’s developer. London Views teaches us exactly what to do with a photobomber against the backdrop of the Rizal Monument. “The management of views containing Strategically Important Landmarks should afford them an appropriate setting and prevent a canyon effect from new buildings crowding in too close to the Strategically Important Landmark in the foreground, or background where appropriate.”

Two questions arise. What is the “canyon effect” and what is the “Landmark Viewing Corridor”? The canyon effect is created when a structure causes a funneled view of the heritage site. London Views explains it this way: “New development in the background of a Townscape View should preserve or enhance a viewer’s ability to appreciate the Outstanding Universal Value of a heritage site” and should not contradict the achievement of the objectives of the site which is to “enhance people’s experience of a view.” It is basically to satisfy a sense of sight, but not as an end in itself for the ultimate end is an appreciation of the meaning of the heritage site.

Very specifically then, London Views identifies what it calls the “Protected Silhouette.” Where it enhances a site, “the Protected Silhouette of the heritage site should not be altered by development appearing in its background.”

If there is one thing we can learn from London, it is the fact that the current legal battle over the Torre de Manila is not an isolated phenomenon in the world. It is hinged on a concept that is being actively practiced by prominent cities elsewhere in the world. There is nothing arbitrary about it. Nor is it frivolous and whimsical on the part of our heritage lawyers, foremost among them the legal heritage expert Trixie Cruz Angeles.

Does the London concept find a cognate in our Cultural Heritage Law? Republic Act No. 10066 in fact protects settings and spaces. Under the law’s Section 3, “built heritage” (which the Rizal Monument is), includes “their settings and landscapes with notable historical and cultural significance.”

Here is where local government units (LGUs) must be able to fill in the gaps. It would do the country’s patrimony immense good if Manila—because it contains heritage significant to the nation’s soul—were to enact a management plan to protect heritage sites. But so too should the rest of the country’s LGUs because no place is ever bereft of heritage material. The problem is, heritage protection is the least of the LGUs’ priorities because it provides very little chance for corruption. Where no construction of infrastructure happens, the mayor does not derive financial gain.

A case in point: A heritage site in a southern city classified by law as an “important cultural property” (ICP) was recently given a facelift. The law requires that it being an ICP, permission must first be secured from the proper cultural agency. This was not observed. When inquiries were done as to its procedural compliance, no public bidding was made. The construction firm contracted was a favorite construction firm of the mayor. We were, of course, not born yesterday not to be able to connect the dots here.

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If violations against the Cultural Heritage Law are taking place in Manila right under the very noses of the country’s primary cultural agencies, imagine what’s taking place in the provinces. National cultural agencies are not line agencies with regional and local representations. The Local Government Code requires the creation of local historical bodies. But usually, those appointed to such bodies are not heritage experts, just political appointees. There is a huge disconnect between national and local heritage.

As for DMCI, it is simply a microcosm of the disinterest in heritage preservation which is prevalent in the Philippine corporate world; most business entities do not give a damn. They think exactly like corrupt local chief executives—there is no money in it. We know of course that they are wrong. Money should be invested as well on the wellbeing of the soul and then to guarantee that the patrimony of this nation lives beyond us. It requires an act of humility and generosity to do so. The opposite is greed.

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TAGS: DMCI, nation, news, Rizal Monument, Torre de Manila
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