SolGen at odds with NHCP, drops it as client over Torre de Manila case | Inquirer News
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SolGen at odds with NHCP, drops it as client over Torre de Manila case

By: - Reporter / @TarraINQ
/ 03:08 AM August 13, 2015

It’s the other way around.

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said it was he who dropped the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in the petition in the Supreme Court seeking the demolition of the controversial Torre de Manila.

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The petitioner, the Knights of Rizal, and other groups maintain that the 49-story condominium building of DM Consunji Inc. (DMCI) has destroyed the vista of the Rizal Monument.

Hilbay made the clarification in response to the decision of the NHCP to get a private counsel for its defense in the case.

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“When the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) invokes its prerogative as the tribune of the people, it is a manifestation that it is taking a position different from that of a client agency,” he told the Inquirer on Wednesday.

“The OSG’s ultimate client is the Republic. So when an agency, as an immediate client, recommends a position to the OSG that is contrary to the interests of the government, the OSG can drop client agency,” he said.

Revised position

In Hilbay’s view, the NHCP’s disagreement with his revised position on the case—that Torre de Manila’s construction is patently illegal—meant a break from the government position and thus a contravention of the state’s interest.

“So what really happened here is that when I invoked that prerogative, I basically told NHCP, NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) and NM (National Museum) that I’m dropping them if they don’t agree with me. NCCA and NM stayed,” Hilbay said.

He said he would formally withdraw as NHCP’s counsel by filing a pleading in the Supreme Court “within the week.”

Hilbay is supposed to be representing government agencies impleaded in the case, including the NHCP, NCCA and NM.

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NHCP chair’s brother

But that changed when NHCP Chair Maria Serena Diokno complained about Hilbay’s turnaround in the case in late July, deciding to get her brother, lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, to represent the agency.

NHCP’s new lawyer appeared for the first time on the agency’s behalf during the third round of oral arguments on the case on Tuesday in the Supreme Court.

In deciding to get a new counsel, the NHCP chair apparently did not like Hilbay’s position in a pleading filed on July 30 in which he told the high court on behalf of the three cultural agencies that Torre de Manila was in violation of Rizal Monument’s physical integrity because it obstructed its sight line.

Asked about his change of tune, Hilbay said he was invoking the prerogative of the OSG to act as the tribune of the people and that it was “the constitutionally and legally correct thing to do.”

The NHCP chair, however, felt such turnaround extinguished the very basis for the agency’s defense, saying in a letter to Hilbay: “If the basis of your prayer that the NHCP be discharged as respondent is gone, on what grounds, then, should we be discharged?”

Initial position

Hilbay’s July 30 submission was contrary to the position he filed in court on Jan. 12. He said then that the monument’s physical integrity “is not threatened with destruction or alteration by Torre de Manila.”

Saying the three cultural agencies may not be held liable in the case, Hilbay said in the initial position paper that the building stood on “private property, the use of which cannot be arbitrarily interfered with by a government agency, such as the NHCP, without clear legal grounds.”

But the NHCP chair did not object to the construction of Torre de Manila in a November 2012 letter. According to Maria Serena Diokno, the building was situated outside the boundaries and buffer zones of Rizal Park and would not obstruct the front view of the monument.

Despite his turnaround, Hilbay still defended the three agencies in his revised position, saying they should not be answerable for the building’s construction as they had “no direct participation in the granting of permits, licenses certificates and or exemptions that paved the way for the construction” of the high rise.

DMCI claims that its high-rise project has not violated any law as it was able to obtain all the permits from the government. The developer was able to construct the building after it got a 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.

The ordinance stipulated that only school and government buildings of up to seven stories could be built on Torre de Manila’s site.

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TAGS: Florin Hilbay, historical commission, Manila, NHCP, Rizal Monument, solicitor general, Torre de Manila
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