SC Justice Carpio: No law vs Torre de Manila construction
“If there is no law prohibiting [it], what is stopping you?”
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday pointed out the lack of a law barring the construction of a high rise behind the Rizal Monument in Manila as he questioned Victor Lazatin, counsel for DM Consunji Inc. (DMCI), at the continuation of oral arguments on the petition seeking the demolition of the Torre de Manila.
The Knights of Rizal wants the 49-story condominium building demolished, saying it destroys the view of the Rizal Monument in Manila.
During the third round of oral arguments, Carpio cited the lack of a specific law protecting the sight line—particularly “the background sight line”—of a monument and constricting the exercise of one’s private property rights.
“Under the Constitution, what is not prohibited by law is allowed. To deprive someone of property, there must be due process,” Carpio said.
“Since there is no implementing law to protect the background sight line, we go back to the general principle that what is not prohibited by law is allowed. Otherwise, there would be a violation of the due process clause that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law,” the magistrate said.
He called this the “core value” and “foundation” of a democratic society, otherwise civil liberties “would be impaired.”
“In our democratic society and our legal system, the core foundation of everything we do is what is not prohibited is allowed. Correct? Because otherwise, we will be in a dictatorship. If there is no law prohibiting it and the President prohibits it, he becomes a dictator. Correct?” Carpio asked Lazatin.
To which the lawyer replied: “Correct, your honor.”
Carpio continued: “So that is the core value of our society today. It prevails (over) all other values. Without that core value, all other core values cannot survive.”
The magistrate also cited the importance of due process. Substantive due process, he said, required the existence of an actual law authorizing the demolition of the Torre de Manila, while “procedural due process” required a hearing before this could be done.
“Due process law includes substantive law authorizing the demolition but there must be a police power law saying you cannot build within one kilometer of the monument. Correct? There is no such a law,” Carpio said.
“The law only says you have to protect the physical integrity (of the monument). Physical means the building itself,” Carpio said.
The justice also cited DMCI’s statements that it had obtained all necessary permits for the construction of the high-rise on its location behind the Rizal Monument.
“If you have secured all government permits (and) there is no law prohibiting you to put up a 49-story building, how can the government stop you?” Carpio asked Lazatin.
“That is precisely our assertion your honor,” said the lawyer.
Contrary to SolGen stand
Carpio’s points were contrary to the Office of the Solicitor General’s position that physical integrity of the monument to national hero Dr. Jose Rizal “necessarily includes its sight line.”
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen briefly had a tense moment interpellating Lazatin, as he questioned the lawyer why his high-caliber legal team had accepted “hook, line, and sinker” the legal opinion of the City of Manila’s planning and development officer on the suspension of an ordinance restricting building heights on Torre de Manila’s location on Taft Avenue.
At one point, as Lazatin spoke at the same time Leonen did, the magistrate said: “Please respect this court.”
DMCI is invoking this exemption, what was repeatedly referred to during the high court proceedings as “variance,” in justifying Torre de Manila’s construction on its site.
Only up to seven stories
Under a Manila local ordinance, only school and government buildings of up to seven stories can be built on Torre de Manila’s site.
“With a P4.2-billion investment, shouldn’t you have checked if there was authority to suspend? Is this part of your due diligence?” said Leonen.
The magistrate said he would understand the failure of due diligence to find out the exemption’s authenticity “if this was just a shanty being built with no lawyer.” But, as the justice noted, the project involved a P4.2-billion investment.
“But seeing the counsels on your table, these are several of my former students at the UP College of Law, you accepted hook, line, and sinker that the executive department (of the City of Manila) suspended the ordinance. Did the mayor suspend it actually?” Leonen asked Lazatin.
“I don’t know. It just says executive branch,” said Lazatin, a point later seconded by his cocounsel, Roberto Dio.
NCCA desist order ignored
Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe asked Lazatin why DMCI did not comply with a cease-and-desist order that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) issued in January to stop Torre de Manila’s construction.
“Is that the way to treat a cease-and-desist order from a cultural agency?” Bernabe asked.
Lazatin said DMCI’s position was that the NCCA had no power to issue a CDO.
Statue hardly visible
Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro shared her experience visiting the Rizal Monument with a judge from Canada, who wanted to see the landmark.
“When I took a photo using my cell phone, you could not see Torre behind the statue. But when we were riding in the van, when we were in front of the statue, the statue of Rizal was hardly visible,” said the justice.
“It was ‘absorbed’ by the imposing Torre de Manila building. And the color of the statue and the color of the building were the same, so you could hardly see the statue,” she added.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who attended the oral arguments on the Torre de Manila for the first time following her leave, adjourned the session past at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
The proceedings will resume on Tuesday next week.
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