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Pia Cayetano: Rise of Rizal Monument ‘photobomber’ Torre de Manila a wake-up call

Senator Pia Cayetano and cultural activist Carlos Celdran discuss the construction of the Torre de Manila, seen behind the Rizal Monument, on Wednesday, Aug. 27. A Senate hearing on the building's construction was held the same day at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines nearby. Danny Pata
Senator Pia Cayetano on Wednesday said that the construction of DMCI Homes' condominium building Torre de Manila is a "wake-up call" for FIlipinos to give more attention to the preservation of arts, culture, and heritage in the country.

The senator headed the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture's public hearing at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to determine whether or not the construction of the 47-storey residential building is lawful.

The building, which is going up across the park on the other side of Taft Avenue, can be seen in the background of the Rizal Monument.

Violation of floor area ratio

In 2012, the City of Manila received a complaint from tour guide and cultural activist Carlos Celdran against the development of the condominium. However, Manila City Councilor Joel R. Chua said that building and zoning permits were already given to the developer, which prompted them to start the project.

The city councilors scheduled a committee hearing to address the issue, but they were not able to resolve anything because it coincided with the filing of candidacy for the 2013 elections.

Upon checking the permits, the P1-billion Torre de Manila passed the qualifications; the area it was built on is a commercial area, not a historical one. However, Manila City Planning and Development chief Danilo H. Lacuña, Jr. said that Torre de Manila violated the allowable floor area ratio.

DMCI said that there was no cease and desist order from the City of Manila to stop the construction, so it continued with the project. 

Cayetano, speaking as a lawyer, insisted that the permits were not enough, especially as DMCI Homes was already knew that there was a violation.

Moreover, the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCAA), the NHCP, the National Parks Development Committee (NCDP) and the National Museum all said that the City of Manila did not consult them regarding the building's construction.

Experts' suggestions

When asked by Cayetano what measures DMCI Homes will make to prevent the building from marring the visual corridors or vista of the Rizal Monument, its representative, vice president for legal Roel Pacio said that Torre de Manila will have an Art Deco-inspired design to blend with Manila's architecture.

However, he did not provide a model at the hearing.

Celdran provided another suggestion: planting trees right behind the Rizal Monument to "stop DMCI from photobombing the sanctity of Jose Rizal."

DMCI agreed to cover the cost, if the suggestion pushes through.

Torre de Manila could also use reflective glass to bounce back the image of the national monument, said NHCP chairperson Maria Serena Diokno.

Architecture and heritage conservation columnist Paulo Alcazaren suggested "transfer of development rights," which is already practiced in other countries. If it is decided to cut the height limit of the supposedly 47-storey building, the developer should then be allowed to build another infrastructure of the same asset value in another location.

Cayetano urged everyone to think of short-term solutions to prevent DMCI from completely ruining the panoramic view of the national monument.

Root of the problem

The root of the problem, according to Alcarazen, is that Manila does not have a unified urban plan, which is also caused by overlapping jurisdictions and changes in administration.

Alcarazen said that Manila had master plans, including the one from American-era architect Daniel Burnham, but none fully materialized.

Yes, demolition is possible

After the hearing, Cayetano said that she had a "hard time believing that DMCI is a builder of good faith." And if it is proven that the building was built in bad faith, the developer must pay the cost.

This means that the court may order the demolition of the P1-billion project and file administrative and/or criminal cases against those who neglected to do their jobs and the private developers as well.

Demolition has also been done both in the Philippines and in other countries. National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) chairperson Felipe de Leon, Jr. pointed out that in Turkey, the court ordered the demolition of 27-storey, 32-storey and 37-storey towers that marred the backdrop of the 400-year-old Blue Mosque.  

In the Philippines, the Manila Regional Trial Court stopped the construction of a sports complex inside Intramuros in 2007, Heritage Conservation Society president Ivan Henares said. Sculptor and architect Ramon Orlina also successfully stopped a construction that have would marred the beauty of Taal Basilica, a National Historical Landmark. — BM, GMA News