154th birthday gift for Rizal: SC stops work on Torre de Manila
National hero Jose Rizal received a “birthday tribute” three days before the nation commemorates his 154th birthday anniversary.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped the construction of Torre de Manila, a 49-story building slammed as an “eyesore” right behind the national hero’s most recognizable monument at Rizal Park, popularly known as Luneta, in Manila.
In an 8-5 vote, the high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) “effective immediately until further orders from the court enjoining respondent DMCI Project Developers Inc. from continuing with the construction and development of the Torre de Manila condominium project.”
The ruling is a fitting gift for the national hero, said the Knights of Rizal, which sought the TRO against the building’s construction on Taft Avenue and asked for its demolition through a petition filed in September.
“The International Order of the Knights of Rizal expresses great happiness in the SC decision for the TRO despite expected strong opposition to the campaign by some sectors,” said Knights spokesman Michael Charleston Chua.
He expressed hopes that the ruling would “lead to a more permanent resolution in the future.”
“This is not just a beautiful birthday tribute to our national hero, but a gift to future generations [that] will benefit in the preservation of the visual corridor of our national monument and landmark. We won a battle but the fight continues. Let us continue to be vigilant,” Chua said in a statement on Tuesday.
In its petition against DMCI, the Knights of Rizal cited several laws that the firm had violated in pushing through with the building’s construction, including measures that protect national heritage and a Manila zoning ordinance that allows school and government buildings of only up to seven stories to rise in the area.
Asked to comment on the high court’s order, DMCI lawyer Leonid Nolasco said the legal team would inform the development firm to heed the TRO.
“We have not yet received a copy of the TRO. We will advise our client to comply with the TRO of the Supreme Court,” the lawyer said in a statement sent via text message.
In the first en banc session after its recess that began in May, the high court also resolved to set oral arguments on the case on June 30.
The tribunal also required the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), instead of the Office of the Solicitor General as earlier ordered, to explain within a nonextendible period of five days why it had issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against the building’s construction on its own while the case was pending in court.
The NCCA served the CDO against DMCI on Jan. 13, but construction of the building continued to rise despite the order.
DMCI’s latest construction update on Torre de Manila posted on its website was as of Dec. 19 last year, or six months ago. The company said the building was already 30.7 percent complete, with “ongoing structural [work] at the 32nd floor.”
Eight justices voted to grant the Knights of Rizal the TRO even before the oral arguments.
They were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Francis Jardeleza.
Those who voted against issuing a TRO before the conduct of oral arguments were Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Bienvenido Reyes.
Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta and Marvic Leonen were on leave.
Manila Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, presiding officer of the City Council, welcomed the TRO against DMCI Homes Inc., saying that the stay order settles the public clamor for a stop to the construction of the tower.
“We expect DMCI Homes Inc. to comply with the restraining order, and at the same time, present its legal defense during the oral arguments,” Domagoso said in a statement.
Domagoso said the City Council would wait for the high court’s final decision and respect it.
For his part, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said he would study the court order before issuing a comment.
House applauds decision
In the House of Representatives, members of the committee on Metro Manila development, who castigated DMCI for proceeding with the project despite CDO issued by the NCCA, applauded the TRO.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, committee chair, said the high court’s decision showed that “our monuments and shrines are supreme over altering our skyline.”
Castelo hoped the tribunal would move to have the structure demolished.
Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez said the TRO was a vindication of the efforts of Congress and citizens to bring to public attention the impropriety of the DMCI project.
“I hope that it will be an initial step toward a permanent injunction to protect the sanctity of the Rizal Monument skyline and uphold historical heritage over rampant commercialization,” said Gutierrez in a text message.
Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said the Supreme Court showed its “progressive and activist bent” by not allowing corporations to desecrate symbols of independence.
“This is not only a simple case of a photobomber but more importantly, it is an issue of preserving our heritage and legacy for the next generation,” Batocabe said.–With reports from Nathaniel R. Melican and Gil C. Cabacungan
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