THIS week’s decision by the Supreme Court to order at least a temporary halt to the construction of the controversial Torre de Manila was a disturbing development for several different reasons, not the least of which is the message it sends about the state of public ethics in this country.
The Torre de Manila, tagged the “photobomber” of the Rizal Monument in Rizal Park which the new condominium block overlooks, sparked outrage among heritage advocates for spoiling the view. Claims have also been made that the project violates a number of zoning and safety regulations. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a petition filed principally by the Knights of Rizal group, and ordered construction halted pending a permanent resolution by the Court.
The building, which has been under construction for a little longer than two years, has risen to a height of 30 stories out of 49 planned and would, if not interrupted by the SC’s temporary restraining order, be completed sometime next year. The construction and property conglomerate DMCI, the tower’s developer, was originally granted a building permit by the City of Manila in June 2012. Construction was actually ordered suspended by the city at one point and the original applications and permits subjected to a review by the office of Mayor Joseph Estrada (the original approval was granted by the administration of former mayor and implacable Estrada foe Alfredo Lim), but were apparently found to be in order, allowing the project to resume.
“The controversy over the Torre de Manila project is an embarrassing example of the inattentiveness of those whose jobs or chosen advocacies involve the public’s interest. “
It has been correctly pointed out that, if nothing else, the controversy over the Torre de Manila project is an embarrassing example of the inattentiveness of those whose jobs or chosen advocacies involve the public’s interest. Eighty-meter tall concrete monoliths do not spring from the Earth overnight, and the time in which questions about the propriety of the project has passed.
While the questions raised by the project’s detractors are significant issues that must be clearly resolved one way or another, the solution – if the detractors are correct – will exceed the public cost of allowing it to be completed. DMCI will incur a big loss, of course, but the bigger – and we sincerely hope unintended – consequences are the loss of several hundred jobs, losses for a whole network of suppliers and ancillary businesses, and a loss of a considerable amount of tax revenue.
However the controversy over the Torre de Manila is eventually resolved, the case should serve as a moral lesson: When people and organizations do not act with integrity, the results are costly and damaging to everyone. Integrity is manifested, for example, when a property developer engages with the surrounding community at the planning stage. It is manifested when a city government first of all understands, and then consistently enforces the same rules for everyone, regardless if the applicant is DMCI or Jun the Karpintero. Integrity is manifested when civil society and other public interest watchdogs actually commit themselves to the calling, and help to guide policy by being attentive and engaged.
None of those things happened, unfortunately, and as a result the Torre de Manila controversy has become another in which any outcome will bring unacceptable harm to someone. It is a self-inflicted injury, and could have easily been avoided if anyone involved had acted with a little more integrity.