SolGen, NHCP positions on Torre de Manila conflicted
On the last day of oral arguments on the case against the Torre de Manila condominium, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on Tuesday echoed the position of developer DMCI Homes that no law protected the visual corridor or sight line of the Rizal Monument.
The NHCP stand was in stark contrast to the position of Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who called on the Supreme Court to order DMCI to demolish the 49-story condominium because it ruined the sight line of the Rizal Monument and was built with undue haste using invalid permits.
Last week, on the fifth round of oral arguments on the case, Hilbay said the Rizal Monument was one of the most important cultural treasures of the country that the Constitution required the State to protect and conserve.
The Solicitor General, who represents the government in the case filed by the Knights of Rizal against DMCI, was the lawyer of the NHCP until he changed his stand on the matter and after the NHCP hired a private lawyer.
In his opening remarks, Jose Manuel Diokno, lawyer of the NHCP and brother of its chair, Ma. Serena Diokno, on Tuesday echoed the position of DMCI that the no law protected the visual corridor or sight line of the monument.
The Knights of Rizal and heritage conservationists averred that the condominium not only destroyed the view of the monument but also desecrated it.
Outside park boundaries
Diokno, dean of De La Salle University College of Law and chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group, reiterated the NHCP position that it could not stop the project because it was outside the park’s boundaries and that its location was not a historical or cultural site.
The NHCP could protect only the monument’s “physical integrity,” which, he said, should not be defined as an art term but its plain meaning, which is the material body of the structure.
“The NHCP’s jurisdiction comes in only when the physical integrity of monument is in danger of being destroyed,” Diokno said.
The lawyer also reminded the court that Jose Rizal did not want to be glorified after his death, based on one of his letters which said he wanted to be buried at Paang Bundok (now Manila North Cemetery) with his grave fenced in and marked by a simple cross and a tombstone.
Diokno said Rizal would have been confounded by the Torre de Manila controversy, adding “I can hear him saying that we have much more bigger problems [to attend to].”
Justice Francis Jardeleza, the assigned writer of the main opinion in the case, pointed out that the NHCP, in a position paper sent the Senate, had agreed that Torre de Manila “visually obstructs” the view of the monument.
NHCP Chair Diokno said that the agency came out with guidelines on how to conserve monuments and that it was up to the local government units to enact ordinances on how such conservation could be made.
She added that had Torre de Manila been erected one, 2 or even 3 kilometers away from its present position, it would still have obstructed the view of the monument.
Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro said that when DMCI and Manila City Hall asked the NHCP about its opinion on the matter of sight lines and visual corridor, it should have rendered one instead of providing an “evasive answer.”
De Castro said the NHCP’s declaration that it had no authority to settle the controversy as the place was a private property and not a historical or cultural spot was used by DMCI to seek its building permit and by City Hall to grant DMCI exception to the zoning ordinance prohibiting commercial buildings in the area.
“Your opinion would have had a persuasive effect. You should have said something. That is what they were expecting from you. If you rendered it the same way you sent to the Senate, the problem would not have escalated,” De Castro said.
The justice said the NHCP was to be blamed for what she branded as “miscommunication” and “inefficient way of dealing with the situation.”
De Castro told the NHCP chief that the “issue about the background was raised before your commission but you did not deal with it. You had a very clear idea of what the issue is about—the background [view].”
Other justices dwelt on the historical background of the monument.
Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out that the government had planned to construct a Jose Rizal Cultural Center right behind the monument in preparation for the hero’s birth centenary in 1961.
Carpio also said that the monument seemed to be facing the wrong way, because Rizal had wanted to face east facing the firing squad because he did not want to face west and be shot in the back like a traitor.
“We still deny him his dying wish. We refused his written request,” Carpio said.
The justice also questioned the historical value of the location of the monument, since it was later established that the site of execution actually lay about 100 meters north.
Justice Marvic Leonen, for his part, observed that “we are quarreling about a monument that Rizal did not want.”
“When the Constitution says conserve or promote, it can also mean that we should grant Rizal his dying wishes so that our people know that our heroes need to be humble, that leaders should not have markers or billboards and should not be epal [attention hound] because that is somebody we should emulate,” Leonen added.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno asked Diokno about the construction done around national monuments, such as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City, the Edsa Shrine in Pasig City and the Ninoy Aquino Monument on Ayala Avenue in Makati City.
The Chief Justice said she also wanted to know how other countries treated their national monuments, especially those in “congested urban settings.”
“How do heritage sites and cities live side by side?” she asked, ordering the NHCP to reply to her query in its memorandum.
Toward the end of the oral arguments, Jardeleza reminded the NHCP that its predecessor, the National Historical Institute (NHI), declared Rizal Park a national historical site in 1995 because not only Rizal but also about 100 more heroes and martyrs who fought against Spain during the Philippine Revolution died there.
Jardeleza said the NHI itself said that the park, known as Bagumbayan during the Spanish times, was a “revered historical site strongly associated with the ideals of liberty and struggle for freedom of the Filipino people sanctified by history and tradition.
The justices heard the side of Ma. Serena Diokno after they finished their interpellation of Hilbay.
Sereno ended the sixth round of oral arguments around 4:15 p.m., instructing the counsels of various parties as well as the amici curiae (friends of the court) to submit their respective memoranda on the case within 20 days.—Jerome Aning
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