DMCI Homes, the Consunji-led property developer, on Tuesday said construction of the controversial 49-story Torre de Manila will go on.
“Cultural heritage and progress can co-exist as observed in other national monuments in the world,” DMCI Homes project development Manager Florence Loreto told reporters in a news briefing.
Work on the high-rise condominium building was stopped after the Supreme Court approved a petition of the Order of the Knights of Rizal that sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the DMCI project. The group claimed that the building ruined the vista of the Rizal national monument in Rizal Park (Luneta) in Manila in violation of laws and regulations and a local zoning ordinance.
The Supreme Court has sche¬duled oral arguments on the case on July 21.
Sought to comment on the DMCI official’s statement, the counsel of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts said she may agree with the idea of co-existence but, in the Torre de Manila case, laws were violated.
“Yes, that is true. Cultural heritage and development can co-exist. However, DMCI violated the conservation of cultural property and national treasure.” Trixie Cruz-Angeles, counsel of the NCCA, told The Manila Times.
She said a legal fight mounted by heritage-conservation advocates was meant to protect the nation’s historic and symbolic landscape.
“First of all, the Rizal Park symbolizes the ideals that embodies Jose Rizal as the national hero, so he should own that landscape. Second, they violated the idea of symbolic space. It’s two-dimension and mass and space. We are also not just talking about the skyline,” Angeles added.
DMCI’s Loreto said when Torre de Manila was starting to be pushed into the spotlight last year and gained the notoriety of being the “national photobomber,” they started to consider remedies and even submitted a proposal to the National Parks Development Committee to plant trees between the monument and the 49-story tower.
“We’ve submitted a proposal in 2014 with the National Parks to build trees in the area [to minimize obstruction of the view from the monument], but they did not grant it because they have a separate master plan for the area,” she added.
When asked if the developer is planning to change the outer facade of the tower to minimize visual obstruction, Loreto said, “We’re picking up a lot of suggestions from netizens. With regard to the facade changes, we’re studying some things to be done but it’s too early to say. We’re studying what would be beneficial to the general public that will be a win-win scenario.”
Loreto clarified that the company had obtained only one building permit from the Manila City Hall that was released in July 2012. The construction of the building started right after DMCI secured “all the necessary permits.”
Also in November 2012, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines approved the project as it is “outside the boundary of Rizal Park and does not obstruct the front view of the Rizal Monument.”
Loreto noted that the National Cultural Heritage Act or Republic Act 10066 only punishes those who destroy, demolish, mutilate or damage any cultural property and/or modify, alter or destroy the original features of any national shrine, which—in the case of Torre de Manila—were not violated.
The DMCI Homes project manager said it is also difficult to determine the word “photobombing” as “there is no existing legal definition or regulation for visual corridor in the Philippines.”
“The location of the Torre de Manila is an ordinary property with commercial value but no cultural or historical significance,” Loreto added, noting that the condominium tower is 870 meters away from the monument and 60 meters away from the jurisdiction of the whole Rizal Park, which complies with the law that there should be 5 meters minimum distance observed from the park to be able to develop an establishment.
“Ligal po ang Torre de Manila. [Torre de Manila is legal.] We are pioneering development in the area. Naniniwala kami na hindi kami ang last developer. [We believe we are not the last developer in the area.] We know that Manila needs it. It is really addressing the need for quality housing in this area. Dun tayo sa mas magandang Manila [We are for the more beautiful Manila],” she said.
At present, the tower is at the tail-end of the capping off stage of the construction, nearing its finishing touches. The 923 units it is offering are already 91 percent sold.