I’VE been hesitant about celebrating the temporary restraining order that the Supreme Court has issued against the construction of DMCI’s Torre de Manila. The hesitation is born of the fact of jobs lost for construction workers who already get paid so little for the work that they do.
But also it is born of there being no clear sense of what will be done if and when that TRO becomes a final decision. One can imagine that unfinished 46-storey building being left there, in all its ugliness, a vestige of the successful fight against big business and development-out-of-control.
Until I heard over the news that Manila Mayor Erap Estrada was ready to demolish Torre de Manila. All he needs is the court to tell him to do so.
Nothing like Erap’s action-star ways shining through in times when we most need it.
The tale of two mayors
Ex-Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim is also being put in his place here, in a display of one macho versus another, in an entertaining show of he-said-he-said.
Blamed for having approved the construction of Torre de Manila, Lim has dared Erap and his men to undergo a lie detector test to prove whether or not they received bribes from DMCI. Lim insists that all they approved during his term was a 19-storey structure—not at all 46 floors.
“Ang hamon ko naman, pwede bang magpa-lie detector test kung totoo, hindi totoo na nanghingi sila at nakatanggap ng pera sa DMCI. Siguro diyan malalaman kung ano ang katotohanan eh. Hindi yung puro salita lang para mapagtakpan ang ginagawa nilang kalokohan.” (ABS-CBN.com, 18 June)
Erap and his team shot back: all the documents show Lim’s signature, with some papers stamped “PRIORITY.” It was also clear in these documents that Lim approved 46 floors, and not 19.
“Sa kanya talaga, literally. Lahat documented, pati mga pirma niya <…> Tapos naghahamon pa ng lie detector test? Hindi na kailangan. Siya kailangan ay brain detector test… Memory detector test.” (ABS-CBN.com, 18 June)
Brain detector test! Ah, classic Erap.
This is the thing though: it’s the first time that I’m seeing Erap’s team at work, and it would do Lim well to be more prepared before he trades barbs with the current Mayor of Manila.
Because there is Manila Councilor Joel Chua who has spoken about an aspect of this whole Torre de Manila debacle that so few have dared speak of, and which we have yet to hear media actually focus on: the role the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) played in this development-turned-crisis.
“Chua showed reporters a document issued by the National Historical Institute which said that the Torre de Manila owner was not violating any national law.
The document was signed by Maria Serena Diokno, chairman of the NHI.” (ManilaTimes, 17 June)
And while it’s clear that there are ordinances and provisions that should have kept DMCI from constructing Torre de Manila, it has also become obvious that there are also always exemptions to these rules—exemptions which the Lim government, if the papers that Erap’s team is holding are correct—had granted DMCI during its term. (ManilaTimes, 17 June)
Chua adds that in defense of DMCI, “its <…> owners were made to believe that no local and national laws or ordinances were being violated when they applied for a permit. The building permit was issued on July 5 2012, including the zoning clearance from the city council and the certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.” (ManilaTimes, 17 June)
The NHCP bottomline
Senator Pia Cayetano has always said that she wanted to get to the bottom of this Torre de Manila fiasco. I’m surprised she hasn’t zeroed in on the NHCP.
Why? Because this is the government office that should be protecting monuments and historic sites from developments such as this one. Because it has been said that in fact NHCP “flipflopped” on Torre de Manila, where in a “June 22 2012 hearing, their position was clear: Torre de Manila violates NHCP guidelines on monuments honoring national heroes.” (Rappler.com, 6 Nov 2013)
But in a letter dated November 6 2012, NHCP Chair Diokno told DMCI that: “Your project site is outside the boundaries of the Rizal Park and well to the rear of the Rizal National Monument, hence it cannot possibly obstruct the front view of the said National Monument.” (Rappler.com, 6 Nov 2013)
Now that letter has not only been corroborated by Manila Councilor Chua, but also by ex-Mayor Lim’s Chief of Staff Ric de Guzman, who said that: “Lim’s admin allowed (the construction) after complying with all regulations and clearances even as the NHCP posed no objection. In their case, they suspended the permit twice only to allow it in the end, even sustaining the permits and licenses issued by the Lim admin.” (Philippine Star, 19 June)
A wrecking ball
The truth is that it would be the greatest thing to watch this structure demolished, the way Erap and his team have promised, and it will be a show for sure, as it will be the best message to send to all businesses that ignore cultural heritage and fail to value history.
At the same time what we need to understand is what went wrong here, and which cultural institution actually failed at doing its job. Why did NHCP change its mind in 2012? Why has it watched all this happen like it’s not involved or culpable? Where does this office stand on issues such as this one, which pits historical sites and monuments against development?
Yup, Erap’s wrecking ball directed at Torre de Manila won’t be the end of this matter. And if his team’s serious about finding the culprits behind this mess, it would do them well to direct their questions to NHCP.