BECAUSE our short memory as a nation is becoming legendary, and these days the manufactured noise is enough to distract us from what happened just yesterday, it seems important to review Torre de Manila, now that DMCI is going to get away with continuing its construction, as the Supreme Court has found that “The court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter; the petitioners (Knights of Rizal) have no standing to sue; and they (petitioners) stand to suffer no injury. Furthermore, the court also found that there is no law that prohibits the construction of the challenged Torre de Manila.”
Pin the blame: NHCP, Diokno, Badoy
Even at the height of this controversy in 2015, while people—especially the elite— were raising their fists against DMCI and its construction of this monstrous structure, few actually pinned the blame on those responsible for giving this building its permits. Yes, the city government of Manila had given the permits; no, they are not the ones to blame for this at all.
In fact, it was – it is – the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) under the leadership of Serena Diokno, and the NHCP executive director, Ludovico Badoy, who are to blame. From a column dated July 18, 2015:
“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 Ludovico Badoy, the NHCP executive director. (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 chair Serena Diokno. (Rappler.com, November 6, 2013)”
But Diokno was not – is still not one – to be criticized by our heritage advocates and historians, for obvious reasons. The elite are a force to be reckoned with because they stick together and strengthen patronage politics like no other.
So, the tendency was always to blame the mayor of Manila for having given DMCI the permits to build. And yet both former Mayor Alfredo Lim and current Mayor Erap Estrada have been clear about one thing: permits and exemptions were given DMCI based on the go-signal from NHCP.
I dare all the heritage conservationists and activists, historians and academics and cultural workers young and old, to pin the blame on the past (current?) leadership of NHCP.
That didn’t happen in 2015. Can it please happen in 2017?
Complicity: Ambeth, Supreme Court, Leonen
And then of course there was the Supreme Court hearings, where we realized that other than the NHCP, many of the justices themselves, and self-proclaimed pop historian Ambeth Ocampo, wasted no time in giving the DMCI the defense that it needed for having built right behind the Rizal Monument.
What did Ambeth do? He discredited the value of the monument itself in one of his articles, questioned its construction, based on what he believes were Rizal’s dying wishes that was solely based on an undated letter given by Rizal to his family, that talked about a burial place of preference (not the Luneta), a stone marker and cross “nothing more” – among other things (Ocampo, December 30, 2013).
This was enough reason for high court Justice MarvicLeonen to say that the Rizal Monument was “epal” – yes, that’s a direct quote. To wit:
“When the Constitution says conserve and promote historical heritage, it also means that we should actually grant Rizal his dying wish so that our people know that our heroes should be humble, that our leaders should not have billboards, should not have markers, should not be ‘epal’ because that is somebody that we should emulate. <…> Therefore, what we are fighting for in this case is really a monument which Rizal did not want” (from StuartSantiago.com, September 19).
Justice Leonen – so believing Ambeth about the “dying wishes” of Rizal – did not acknowledge that the letter to the family was totally different from Rizal’s final poem for the nation. Neither was there any acknowledgment during the hearing of the fact that Rizal’s execution site was the Luneta, which makes it sacred ground, which cradled that specific moment when a National Hero was born to a nation.
And it is this sacredness that Torre de Manila is encroaching on. It is in fact this history that is the basis for DMCI wanting to even build right there, allowing its residents a bird’s eye view of the Luneta, and the monument of National Hero Jose Rizal. DMCI itself cares that this is a historically and culturally important site for all Filipinos, and will be capitalizing on it.
But of course, the Supreme Court, Leonen, and Ambeth don’t care to see that.
Sorry na lang, Rizal
That any historian would be so empowered as to hold the sole truth about a National Hero’s dying wishes – never mind “Mi Ultimo Adios,” the poem Rizal finished the night before his execution, and which was not mentioned at all during the high court hearing – is astounding (Angela Santiago, September 19, 2015).
That a historian would have the Supreme Court Justices wrapped around his finger, like history is not a site of contestation, like it is solely about documents, is proof of our sad state of affairs. Ocampo sells himself as the historian who “frees <our heroes> from their monuments of stone and bronze and make them human again” (Ocampo, 2008). But that would be to miss the point about these monuments. These need not be oppressive structures that limit our notion of our heroes, as these are a measure of their value, and in the case of the Rizal Monument in Luneta, a reminder of how certain spaces are sacred ground where heroes have died for the nation.
Alas, the Supreme Court was not one to have this discussion either. And so here we are.
That Diokno and Badoy will get away with this, that Ocampo will not be called out for having strengthened the case in favor of DMCI, that the Supreme Court has decided in favor of capitalists who are precisely using the sacred ground of the Rizal Monument and Luneta to sell its condominium, say it with me: cultural crisis.