WE thought the streak of good news would continue for heritage conservationists after the thoroughly laudable decision of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines last week to declare the Rizal Memorial Stadium an important historical and cultural landmark, thereby sparing the art-deco structure from the ghastly commercial development plans of Manila City Hall.
On Tuesday, however, the Supreme Court finally voted to let the construction of the controversial Torre de Manila residential condominium proceed, lifting a temporary restraining order that halted the P3.6-billion DMCI Homes project for nearly two years.
The 49-storey condo project has so riled heritage advocates and netizens for ruining the heretofore clear skyline of the Rizal Monument, it was branded the “national photobomber.” The unfinished building is on Taft Avenue just outside the national park, but from the vantage point of Roxas Boulevard, it’s a hideous sight in one of the few remaining open spaces in the metropolis.
The Torre de Manila mess is a showcase of everything that’s wrong with Philippine institutions, and which DMCI’s lawyers only had to exploit.
First, it seems the petitioner, the Knights of Rizal, went straight to the Supreme Court for fear that the lower courts could be manipulated or bought.
To be fair, the Supreme Court seems to be on sound legal footing on this ruling – the Knights wanted the high tribunal to do the job of regular courts, that is, to issue an injunction to stop the condo construction. The Knights’ request for an injunction had to be converted into a petition for mandamus just so the high court could hear it.
To cut a long story short, the Supreme Court could not hear the case as if it’s a trier of facts; the Knights should have gone to the Manila courts first. Moreover, the standing of the Knights to sue was also in question; again, the lower courts could have settled this matter.
Second, why the matter had to reach the courts instead of being resolved at City Hall is most disconcerting. As we wrote on this space nearly two years ago, 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.”
Indeed, as we had said, 80-meter-tall concrete monoliths do not spring from the earth overnight, and the time in which to question the propriety of the project has decidedly passed.
Manila is a historic capital, and its most important landmark should have the privilege of an unobstructed skyline, like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Washington Monument to Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, most of Manila’s elected politicians did not possess enough cultural, historical and civic sense to block this condominium project from inception. As a result, future generations will most likely blame them and the rest of City Hall for this towering monstrosity.