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Torre de Manila has marred the clear Rizal Park skyline. Photo from twadl.com

A soaring eyesore: Torre de Manila’s construction threatens Rizal Park’s skyline

Torre de Manila, DMCI Home’s latest one-tower condominium development located in Manila City, is under heavy criticism for defacing the view of the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park. The 49-storey building, located along Taft Avenue, Manila City is set to rise high behind the statue honoring the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

Due to the height of the building, it easily dwarfs the memorial and exerts its dominance over the sightline of the park. While still undergoing construction, Torre de Manila is clearly visible behind the monument, and can easily steal the attention of a visitor away from the monument which, up until the construction, had uncontested control over the sightline.

Citizens and netizens react

In an attempt to preserve the beauty of the park for the purpose of cultural heritage, about 10,354 signatures have been gathered in an online petition opposing the construction of the condominium, by seeking the suspension of its building permit. Netizens have also started tagging pictures of themselves showing how Torre de Manila occupies the view behind Rizal with #selfiechallenge, following the #MRTchallenge, which received significant attention in social media. Also, a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the demolition of the said condominium project on the grounds that it has violated several zoning provisions laid down by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

On legalities and preservation of culture

The issue is also legal in as much as it is cultural. A question that may be asked is whether or not the state can intervene and suspend the construction and even demolish the building. What powers does the State have in this issue despite the fact that Torre de Manila does not obstruct the building, but merely occupies the sightline, which if viewed from a certain angle, would remove the condominium from sight completely?

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, under Article 14, contains provisions which protect the country’s cultural heritage. Section 15 provides that “The state shall conserve, promote, and popularize the nation’s historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations.” Section 16 also provides that “All the country’s artistic and historic wealth constitutes the cultural treasure of the nation and shall be under the protection of the state which may regulate its disposition.”

However, despite the existence of these provisions, no legal remedy is available to provide offended and concerned citizens relief should they feel and prove that their right to the preservation of the culture and history of the country is unfairly compromised. The Order of the Knights of Rizal, upon filing their petition for the demolition of the tower, claimed that this could be a historical first where the court could grant a Writ of Pamana (heritage) or a Writ of Kasaysayan (history). The Supreme Court, however, has opted to delay ruling on the matter and instead sought for a comment from the developer DMCI before it renders its decision.

While citizens do not have the capacity to invoke the Constitution or have access to a legal remedy akin to the Writ of Kalikasan for the purpose of preserving cultural and historical monuments and works of art, the State by exercising its police power, still has the power to demolish the project on the ground of public interest and safety.

In the leading case of Churchill vs. Rafferty, Act No. 2339 authorized the then Collector of Internal Revenue to remove after due investigation, any billboard exposed to the public view if it decides that it is offensive to the sight or is otherwise a nuisance. Things offensive to the senses, such as sight, smell or hearing, may be suppressed by the State especially those situated in thickly populated districts. What the case imparts is that aesthetics may be regulated by the police power of the state, as long as it is justified by public interest and safety.

There can be no doubt that the situation surrounding the controversy of the tower fits the circumstances provided for in Churchill. The preservation of our cultural heritage is enough to embody public interest in this issue. The State then, has the power to order the suspension of Torre de Manila’s construction, or perhaps even order its demolition upon finding sufficient grounds that DMCI has violated certain zoning regulations which results in disturbing the once clear skyline of the Rizal Park.

Violation of laws and zoning ordinance

But has DMCI actually violated any zoning regulation that would justify State action? Ordinance No. 8119 of Manila City, otherwise known as “An Ordinance Adopting the Manila Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning Regulations of 2006,” provides under its Section 12, “Use regulations in High Density Residential/Mixed Use Zones,” that residential use buildings must conform to the land use intensity control ratings, the maximum floor area ratio of which must not exceed a floor area ratio of 4. According to the building plan submitted by DMCI, the Torre de Manila has a floor area ratio of 7.4, thus clearly exceeding the maximum floor area ratio laid down by the Ordinance by 3.4 units.

Furthermore, Section 25 of the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 has provided the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) the power to issue a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) when the physical integrity of the national cultural treasures or important cultural properties are found to be in danger of destruction or significant alteration from its original state.

In relation to this, Section 20 of R.A. No. 10066 or “An Act Providing for the Protection and Conservation of the National Cultural Heritage, Strengthening the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Its Affiliated Cultural Agencies and for Other Purposes” also provides that immovable national cultural treasures shall not be rebuilt, defaced or otherwise changed in a manner which would destroy the property’s dignity and authenticity, except to save such property from destruction due to natural causes.

However, NHCP, despite having the power and authority to preserve the sightline of the monument, has decided to approve the construction of the building despite having first expressed its opposition towards it. If so, can the Court order the NHCP to decide otherwise?

Cultural heritage versus modern sensibilities

The controversy surrounding the construction of Torre de Manila raises two alarming issues. The first is the lack of consideration from DMCI by constructing a high rise building which would adversely affect an important national shrine, and the second is the wanton disregard of zoning regulations intended to protect not only the beauty and significance of such a monument, but also the residents of a certain area.

On the first issue, the lack of consideration and respect over national works of art which honor national heroes who have directly contributed in shaping the nation’s historical development is reflective of how modern sensibilities have been dulled to the point that protecting important shrines are no longer of importance if it can give way to economic benefits. A keen observation of the area surrounding the Rizal Park would show that no one has actually dared to erect a building as high as the Torre de Manila and steal the focus of the view from Rizal’s humble monument. Indeed, being the first to build a towering condominium in the area would mean solely capturing a huge market, but this is for the price of actually trampling a monument of a national hero. In addition, this could also spark a construction spree in the area, which would ultimately lead to the deterioration of the Rizal skyline.

In relation to the second issue, zoning regulations have been put into place for specific reasons, particularly to protect and assist in the administration of sustainable development in a certain locality or area. Councilor Joy Dawis-Ascuncion, co-author of Manila’s city zoning ordinance, commented that at the time the zoning ordinance was drafted, the limited holding capacity of Manila was taken into consideration. The floor area ratio limitation was laid down as the City Council had to take into consideration the limitation of the city’s small pipelines, as well as limited electricity distribution, in order to properly accommodate the residents of Manila. Moreover, zoning regulations for the purpose of preserving the beauty of the park were also set in order to safeguard the respect it deserves.

The fact that both the City of Manila and the NHCP hastily approved the construction of the tower after DMCI had appealed their decisions to oppose the construction, speaks heavily of the kind of mentality people in government have over laws which were laid down for a purpose. Regardless of how swift the issuance would put an end to a certain controversy, proper rules and regulations must still be conformed with and enforced for the greater good.

Ultimately, it is disappointing that government agencies and LGUs which are primarily tasked to protect our country’s cultural heritage and identity, as well as the welfare of the its citizens, would be those who would swiftly grant DMCI’s permit, despite blatant and obvious violations. P

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