IN our country, the ways of commerce often trump the most basic of civic duties, such as sacrificing century-old trees whenever a public infrastructure has to be built. There is not much uproar when such things happen – the country is short on vital infrastructure and whatever public facilities we have are fraying from wear and tear and obvious lack of maintenance.
(Ok, the first social malignancy, which I wrote of in a previous column, is rich-worship.)
In a dispute between a public works contractor and environmental groups, the former always knocks out the latter. The public institutions that mediate or that rules on those conflicts almost always side with the contractor. The worth of century-old trees, and them being mute witnesses to much of the country’s history, amount to zero and nada.
There are countries that digitize every tree on the metropolitan sprawl to protect the said trees against any devilish intent. And there are a few outliers and banana republics—like our sad country—that give no importance to the ancient trees that have been mute witnesses to the triumphs and turmoil of a nation.
But then, that is just the first stage of grief among eco warriors and conservationists. And those who care for posterity.
The almost cavalier bulldozing of heritage sites, to give way to boxy malls or some other need of cheap commerce, has no redeeming feature whatsoever. But between building a boxy mall and preserving an ancient, beautiful building done in elaborate architecture, the former is deemed as the priority.
What have been brutally savaged by wrecking balls again? Ancient churches and chapels, the fronton site, the old Coca-cola building, privately owned grand houses and many more. The old Army and Navy Club was grotesquely redesigned to make way for, would you believe, a spa. The prime mover of its hideous redesign is a blabbermouth who often bloviates on urban planning and design.
Whatever happened to the old Jesuit home of Father Reuter’s?
That level of assault makes the neglect of grand old buildings and houses (the Abad Santos house in San Fernando, Pampanga once hosted a bote garapa business), a routine, harmless omission.
This is the standing rule in this country. Those who forget the past are just keeping up with the needs of commerce, however cheap.
Citizens, however, drew the line a couple of years ago. After the photos of a condo construction by DMCI revealed it to be serving as an ugly backdrop to the statue of the national hero, Jose Rizal, at the Rizal Park, there was an immediate expression of outrage. Because Rizal Park belongs to every citizen and it has been, from time immemorial, a must-visit site in Manila. It has been for so long the de facto pilgrimage site. And Gat Jose Rizal is our national hero.
Rizal Park. Then Fort Santiago. There are no more sacred grounds in our national memory than the two sites.
The netizens drew a line. An uncluttered view of the tribute to the national hero or the interest of a developer owned by one of the country’s very few dollar billionaires? David Consunji’s business interests span the whole range of choice sectors: construction, power and energy, real estate development and what have you. He can forgo the Torre de Manila construction without hurting his huge bottom line. The loss from the forgone Torre de Manila project would just be a rounding error in the computation of his massive wealth.
But no. DMCI would not forgo the “Pambansang Photobomb.” The Knights of Rizal went to the Supreme Court to seek relief. How can the nation and its conscience live with that monstrosity? How can the requirement of cheap commerce—there are condos everywhere and one less condo would not hurt the City of Manila and the Republic—trump the uncluttered view of Rizal Park? That was just like kicking the dead and that dead happened to be Gat Jose Rizal, our national hero, according to the Knights of Rizal.
The Supreme Court decision—a ruling that would send many Filipinos here and overseas into bouts of depression—said there is no law that prohibits the construction of a condominium, even an ugly one that is a clear assault on the national hero and everything that Rizal stands for. The construction of that 49-story Tower of Monstrosity may proceed. The national expectation was that the high court, with its justices schooled on the importance of Rizal, would stop the construction of the condo.
The decision showed that even the court of last resort, which has ruled in favor of historical revisionism in the Marcos case, literally said that cheap commerce can desecrate hallowed ground, the de facto national pilgrimage site .
That cheap commerce can kick the dead even if that dead is our national hero.
DMCI rejoiced. And it invoked, without fear of sanction, “our stakeholders.”
DMCI sadly but truly sensed that in this country, our national hero and the values that he stands for have less value than another towering monstrosity of concrete, glass and steel.