Sereno, Carpio ‘lawyered’ for DMCI, says court insider
TENSION gripped the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday as justices deliberating on a petition to stop the construction of the Torre de Manila traded barbs during their closed-door en banc session.
According to a court insider, a shouting match ensued between the justices who voted in favor of granting an injunction to stop the Consunji group from finishing the 46-storey condominium project, which conservationists claim ruins the vista of the Rizal monument at the Rizal Park (Luneta) in Manila and those who argued that a TRO should not be issued until oral arguments on the case have been conducted.
The source said some of the justices suspected that the two most senior justices–Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Antonio Carpi–were “lawyering” for the Consunji-owned DMCI Homes, the developer of the high-rise tower in Malate district in Manila.
Sereno and Carpio were among the five justices who voted against the granting of a petition by the Order of the Knights of Rizal for the issuance of a TRO.
A source of The Manila Times claimed that the Chief Justice’s husband, Mario, was formerly involved with the DMCI.
Chief Justice Sereno, the source claimed, was asked to inhibit from participating in the case involving Redmont Consolidated Mines and DMCI, citing her husband’s ties with the Consunji-owned company.
Redmont’s counsel, Gioan Fernand Legaspi, had filed a motion citing Mario’s strong involvement with DMCI Mining Corporation as he has “a substantial financial interest in the legal proceedings.”
“Respondent [Redmont] is thus constrained to file this motion to inhibit the Honorable Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno considering the strong relations of her husband with DMCI who happens to be the financier of the foregoing legal proceedings and where he worked as its supposed corporate planning officer,” the motion argued.
Some SC justices believe that Sereno must inhibit from all the cases involving DMCI to avoid any suspicion of bias and partiality.
“To avoid any suspicion, Malou [Sereno’s nickname] must inhibit from all the cases involving DMCI, including this Torre de Manila case,” the source said.
The source added that Sereno is siding with Carpio in the Torre de Manila case against the group of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, who drafted the decision.
“Kitang-kita sa mukha ni [Sereno], nakasimangot siya ng manalo si Francis [It shows on the Chief Justice’s face. She was frowning when Justice Francis Jardeleza won],” another SC source told The Manila Times.
On the supposed shouting match between Carpio and Jardeleza, one source said the two were just being “emphatic” while another said they’re just “arguing.”
Carpio was the first to shout as he allegedly defended Torre de Manila but Jardeleza defended his position.
“Sumisigaw si Carpio while arguing. Pero di nagpatalo si Francis at nakipagsabayan din ng sigaw kay Tony [Justice Carpio was shouting as he argued his point but Justice Jardeleza would not be cowed as he also stood his ground against Justice Carpio],” the source said.
Carpio and Jardeleza were classmates at the University of the Philippines College of Law. Jardeleza graduated in 1974 and placed 2nd in the Bar examinations while Carpio graduated in 1975 and placed 6th in the Bar examinations.
Sereno and Carpio allegedly had tried to block Jardeleza’s appointment to the High Court.
Some 2,000 workers found themselves out of work also on Wednesday, the day after the SC issued a TRO against the Torre de Manila, after DMCI Homes suspended work at the condominium building project in compliance with the TRO.
The construction workers were initially barred from entering the project site in the morning but were later allowed to get inside to get their personal belongings.
A DMCI Homes statement said the affected workers will be reassigned to work in other projects but that not all could be accommodated.
Cesar Martinez, 35, of Santa Mesa, Manila, said he had been working in the site for more than a year.
Benigno Garcia, 43, said he is from Quezon province and is renting a room near the site to save on transportation.
A foreman, using a megaphone, informed the workers that they could be absorbed by other DMCI projects.
The only problem is that the projects are far from Manila.
“We have no other choice but to grab the offer in working in other projects,” Martinez said.
He added that the tower is almost complete and it only needs finishing touches like the installation of doors, windows and some partitions.
Manila Councilor Joel Chua also on Wednesday blamed the administration of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim for allowing the Consunji group to breach the height limit in constructing the Torre de Manila.
Chua, chairman of City Council Oversight Committee, claimed Lim adopted a “sky is the limit” policy, which means anybody can build towers in Manila even within the vicinity of historical sites, such as the Rizal monument in violation of two local laws.
He said City Ordinance 8119, which was passed in 2007, has set the limit of buildings near the Rizal monument to only seven floors.
“DMCI at first said they were made to believe that there was no ordinance that set the height limit. When they learned about it, they asked for exemption, which was granted after they complied with restrictions. This was from 2012 to March 2013 during the time of [then-]Mayor Lim,” Chua told reporters.
He said at the time, the city council had already passed Ordinance 8310, which prevents the construction of any building that hampers the vista of the Rizal monument.
The ordinance, however, was vetoed as it was “‘ultra vires” or beyond the power of the city council. The proposed ordinance was drafted after an investigation conducted by a city council committee.
“But, without our knowledge, Ordinance 8310 was vetoed by Mayor Lim. By the time, we were busy for the campaign [for the mayoral race]and we were not informed of the veto,” Chua said.
When Joseph Ejercito Estrada assumed office as the new Manila mayor, his administration could no longer stop DMCI Homes from continuing with the construction.
“The city hall was bankrupt and we do not want to impress upon the businessmen that we were very strict. We want to entice them to come and invest to give jobs to Manileños,” he said.
Chua, however, said the city council welcomes the recent temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court.
“We will abide with the SC TRO and whatever ruling they will issue,” he added.
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.
Chua said Ordinance 8119 categorizes the site of Torre de Manila as inside the “university cluster” that allow tower buildings. This provision contradicts another provision that limits the buildings in front of Rizal Monument to seven floors.
“However, Section 16 of 8119 said there are exemptions of variances, meaning DMCI could apply for exemptions which they did by complying with the requirements,” he added.
Chua said the granting of exemption was necessary for DMCI to continue the construction, which by March 2013 was already reaching 30 floors.
DMCI, he added, in its defense said the 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.
Chua said the city government will demolish the tower once the SC issues a demolition order.
“We also want to put a period to this issue. At present, there is a TRO, which is temporary. The SC is yet to decide on the meat of the case. But we are ready to demolish it anytime,” he added.
Manila Vice Mayor Fernando Domagoso (Isko Moreno) wants DMCI Homes to be charged for constructing the tower.
“DMCI should be held liable for selling the units and they should file the case before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, the government agency that issues permit to condominium builders,” Moreno told a radio interview.
When reminded by reporters that he was already the vice mayor and presiding officer of the city council when DMCI Homes was granted special zoning exemption, the vice mayor said he tried hard to prevent the granting of the permit.
According to Councilor Ali Atienza, government officials should be charged for allowing the construction of the tower built on the site of the former Jai Alai building.
“Dapat may makulong sa mga kumita diyan. Hindi naman tatayo iyan kung walang tumanggap sa gobyerno [Those who received grease money must be jailed. It would not be built if money did not change hands],” Atienza said in a text message to reporters.
WITH JAIME R. PILAPIL