What I do not get, and have been unable to wrap my head around, is how anyone can discuss the Torre de Manila issue without actually reaching the bottom line: the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) gave DMCI permission to build that monster of a structure behind the Jose Rizal Monument in Luneta.
The NHCP, which is the national office in charge of protecting historical monuments and structures, is the one who said that “The Torre de Manila project site is outside the boundaries of the Rizal Park and well to the rear (789 meters) of the Rizal National Monument, hence it cannot possibly obstruct the front view of the said National Monument.” This letter was addressed to then Mayor Alfredo Lim, dated November 9 2012, signed by NHCP Executive Director III Ludovico Badoy. (GMANetwork.com, 13 July)
DMCI Consultant Alfredo Andrade meanwhile, received a letter with similar sentiments on November 6 2012. It said: “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.” It was signed by NHCP Chairperson Serena Diokno. (Rappler.com, 6 November 2013)
Beyond the blame game
It is of course easy to get lost in the noise generated by the Supreme Court decision to stop the construction of Torre de Manila. This has after all brought back the old battle between two Manila mayors, Lim and current Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Beyond the noise though one can glean what went wrong and how. Yes, both city governments dealt with Torre de Manila, and both allowed DMCI to build it. Chronologically, it was during Lim’s term that the foundations of DMCI were allegedly built. Councilor DJ Bagatsing filed Ordinance 8310 that would’ve imposed a height limit (seven-story?) on Torre de Manila; Lim vetoed the the Ordinance, saying that it gave the City Council powers that it should not have. (Inquirer.net, 1 July)
In October 2014, the NHCP was asked by Congress to issue a cease-and-desist order (CDO) against DMCI’s Torre de Manila project, after it was revealed during a House Committee Hearing that DMCI had not obtained an exemption from the height restriction before it started building the 49-floor structure. (Philstar.com, 28 Oct 2014)
In November 2014, the Manila City Council under Estrada unanimously voted against the project, after which DMCI “sought to be excluded from the city’s building and zoning regulations.” (BusinessWorldOnline, 11 Sept 2014) Two months after, in January 2015, the Manila Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals granted Torre de Manila the exemption, which in turn was ratified by the City Council. (Inquirer.net, 19 June)
The NCCA, finally Enter the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which on January 14 issued a CDO against DMCI’s continued construction of the Torre. (Philstar.com, 14 Jan) An order, by the way, that the NHCP should have been able to issue if it so cared for the Rizal Monument – which is its duty by the way.
On February 2015, the Manila government appealed to the Supreme Court to junk the TRO against Torre de Manila filed by the Order of the Knights of Rizal, saying that “the developers had complied with and gathered all the necessary permits and clearances before it started construction,” with exceeded zoning provisions “remedied with the grant of a zoning exemption ratified by the city council.” (Inquirer.net, 24 February)
In June 2015, the SC issued a TRO against Torre de Manila.
Early this month, DMCI filed a P20-million lawsuit against the NCCA for the January CDO asserting that it was “a wrongful act that caused undue injury to <DMCI-PDI>, both of whom are entitled to the completion of a lawful construction project that complies with all the requirements of the law.” (Inquirer.net, 5 July) The NCCA has since called this “ridiculous.”
The silent culprits
Note that you can actually talk about the Torre de Manila crisis without mentioning the NHCP. The latter is lucky that one can get lost in the noise and rhetoric, the tale of two mayors taking a stand for and against the structure.
Yet Lim and Estrada agree on one thing: the permits and exemptions they gave DMCI were based on the fact that NHCP Chair Diokno herself had given the go-signal for the construction.
DMCI meanwhile is revealing its ego more than it should, building Torre de Manila regardless of existing zoning and heritage site laws, and now bullying the NCCA with the threat of a P20 million lawsuit. One is forced to ask: why hasn’t DMCI sued the NHCP, upon whose approval they continued to build the Torre?
One wonders, too, how DMCI operates in cases where workers die on the job, such as what happened July 17 at its subsidiary Semirara Mining and Power Corporation’s open pit coal-mine in Antique. Thirteen workers were reportedly working on the site at 3:00a.m. (!!!), when it collapsed; four escaped, nine are dead. (GMANetwork.com, 17 July) One wonders what changes it made – if at all – for its workers’ safety after the same tragedy happened in 2013, killing at least five. (Bloomberg.com, 14 Feb 2013)
The other question is why the NHCP leadership is so fearless. And why we have not heard a peep from Diokno all this time. Is this a case of a Presidential appointee refusing accountability? A Presidential appointee asserting that she is untouchable and irremovable?
Yet another reason to wish for a Liberal Party loss in 2016.