SC orders halt to construction of tower behind Rizal monument
A high-rise condominium project that has outraged Filipino conservationists for allegedly ruining views of the Rizal monument in Manila was stopped by the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, officials said.
The 49-story Torre de Manila development looms on the skyline behind the tomb and monument of national hero Jose Rizal, less than a kilometer away.
Still under construction and currently 30 stories tall, it has been derided in social media as the “national photobomber,” in a nod to the monument’s status as one of the country’s most photographed structures.
The High Court’s decision was handed down two days before Rizal’s 154th birth anniversary, June 19.
The court injunction takes effect immediately until the case is resolved, SC spokesman Theodore Te told reporters.
Te announced that the SC, in an en banc session, granted a petition of the Order of the Knights of Rizal for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop DMCI Homes from continuing with the construction of the building that it calls as the Torre de Manila (Tower of Manila).
Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno welcomed the issuance of the TRO, saying “it could once and for all settle the issue.”
Moreno said he expects DMCI to comply with the restraining order and, at the same time, present its legal defense during oral arguments.
He added that the Manila City Council will respect and abide with whatever the final decision of Supreme Court will be.
“Rizal is one of the foremost historical figures in the country. He must own the landscape,” said Trixie Angeles, head of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
“If we consider him important, he must dominate the landscape. He is the symbol of the Filipino,” she added.
Rizal campaigned for reforms under Spanish colonial rule and was jailed and later executed in 1896 by firing squad at the Rizal Park (Luneta) that now holds his tomb and monument.
A spokesman for developer DMCI Homes declined to comment, saying the company had not been furnished with a copy of the court’s decision.
Social media erupted in cheers after the SC ruling was announced.
Twitter user @edrocksworld said the halt order was an “early birthday present” for Rizal, whose 154th birth anniversary is on Friday.
“It really ruins the view [of the monument]from any angle, unless you drape it with the Philippine flag,” @AkosiAgs said in a tweet.
Voting 8-5, the High Court “resolved to issue a temporary restraining order effectively immediately and until further orders from the court enjoining respondent DMCI Project Developers Inc. from continuing with the construction and development of the Torre de Manila condominium project.”
Among those who voted in favor of the issuance of the TRO were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama, Jose Mendoza, Estela Bernabe and Francis Jardeleza who penned the decision.
Those who voted against were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez and Bienvenido Reyes. They said a TRO should not be issued until oral arguments have been conducted
Justices Diosdado Peralta and Marvic Leonen were on leave.
The order also scheduled oral arguments to be held on June 30.
The High Court, moreover, granted a motion of the Office of the Solicitor General asking that they be excused from filing an explanation.
The court instead ordered the NCCA to explain within five days why it issued an order stopping the construction.
The petitioner, Order of the Knights of Rizal, is a fraternal and cultural organization established in 1911 to honor and uphold Rizal’s ideals. Republic Act 646 signed into law by President Elpidio Quirino in 1951 granted the Knights of Rizal a legislative charter as a civic and patriotic organization.
In its 26-page petition, the Knights of Rizal had asked the SC to issue a TRO against the condominium project.
The group also asked the High Court to grant a “writ of pamana” (heritage) or a “writ of kasaysayan” (history) as a legal remedy for the protection of a citizen’s right to “all the country’s artistic and historic wealth (which) constitutes treasure of the nation,” under Section 14, 15, and 16, Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution.
The Knights of Rizal noted that once the 46-story building project is completed by 2016, it would “stick out like a sore thumb, and dwarf” all surrounding buildings within a radius of two kilometers.
The group said the buildings around it average five stories or about 15 meters only in height.
It added that allowing Torre de Manila to be completed would be considered the “worst precedent imaginable… to devalue historical landmarks.”
The Knights of Rizal alleged that DMCI Homes acted in bad faith and violated Manila’s zoning ordinance and other laws as well as existing guidelines on monuments among which are Republic Act 7356 (law creating the National Commission on Culture and the Arts), Republic Act 4846 (Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act) and Republic Act 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 or an Act Providing for the Protection and Conservation of the National Cultural Heritage).
The construction of the building also violates Manila City (zoning) Ordinance 8119 since the area where Torre de Manila is being constructed is reserved for schools and government buildings.
The group said the development project would cause “permanent and monumental prejudice and injustice” to present and future generations of Filipinos.
It added that the Rizal monument, having been declared a National Cultural Treasure, is entitled to full protection of the law.
According to the Knights of Rizal, having a towering building in the background of the Rizal monument is a “nuisance” that “annoys and offends the senses” of Filipinos who honor Rizal’s memory.
The building has since been infamously known as Rizal’s “photobomber.”
The group said the project violates the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ guidelines on monuments, which provide that historic monuments should assert a visual “dominance” over their surroundings.
The guidelines state that “vista points” and “visual corridors” to monuments must be kept “clear for unobstructed viewing and appreciation and photographic opportunities.”