More and more of our private developers are ably demonstrating that the wrong kind of development leads to disaster, no thanks to an apathetic government.
Heritage sites such as the Rizal Monument, the Army and Navy Club building, the Admiral building are being defaced, demolished or “redeveloped”, losing their cultural value, while local governments and national agencies are doing nothing to stop it.
We have enough laws in the Philippines to protect cultural sites but laws are mere pieces of paper when unimplemented.
And we are not just talking about historical and heritage sites. Everywhere in our cities, it seems that the concept of development and redevelopment has been relegated to the building of condominiums, with hardly any consideration about congestion, aesthetics or preserving the character of the surrounding area or community.
We can build all the condominiums we want but that does not necessarily ensure we are building great places to live.
Before any kind of development is undertaken, it should be made mandatory that members of the community be consulted. That is just smart and conscientious urban planning. This should help ensure that the kind of development we undertake would be environmentally attractive and would promote social cohesion.
Unfortunately, most private developers are not doing this. Indeed, they are doing all the wrong things with today’s urban development.
A good example is the development that is planned on the land currently being occupied by the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (JASMS) in Quezon City.
The JASMS QC Parents’ Association led by its President, Tito V. Pijano III, recently wrote to Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista and the city council strongly objecting to the redevelopment of its campus into a couple of 33-storey high-rise condominiums and a commercial complex.
Their letter detailed the numerous violations that face the group of Ayala Land Corporation, BPI Trust, and its partner STI education Systems Holdings, Inc., which bought into the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) in 2011. (JASMS is the basic education unit of PWU.)
In pursuing the development on the JASMS-QC property, the private developers needed to secure numerous amendments to the existing zoning and development plans of the city, as the campus is located in a designated educational zone. Hence, they wrote a resolution seeking to be exempted from said laws and special treatment, in violation of several city ordinances.
Pijano said that the development plan was done without due consultation with the school and its main constituents: the children, faculty, and the parents.
The parents association consulted well-known architects and structural engineers who said that the two 33-storey towers would require a deep and huge digging that would certainly create hazards to the over 900 basic education students and college students in the campus.
“Can you imagine what dangers our students will face, especially those who are students with special needs, in the midst of all the high-rise buildings being constructed in the campus within the next few years? This is really alarming,” lamented Pijano.
The parents said part of the development plan requires the immediate demolition of a newly renovated classroom building in the next few weeks while classes are ongoing.
“If they will demolish this classroom building where will our children hold their classes? Do they want our children to study under the shades of the numerous old trees in the campus?” said Mrs. Caoile, one of the parents.
Another parent, Norman Doromal lamented that they feel like David against the Goliath of STI and Ayala Land Corporation.
They noted that SM Prime was also able to get an exemption for its La Vista Katipunan project despite the objections of the La Vista residents.
The Benitez clan who owns PWU-JASMS have reportedly yet to see the complete plans of STI and Ayala Corporation. Of course, the Benitez family should have been consulted regarding these plans together with the students, parents and teachers.
A source from the Benitez Family said that former senator Helena Benitez and the other elders of the clan remain steadfast in their role as educators first and foremost, and that they will insist on keeping the campus’s vast open space for the children.
In 2011, the Benitez family invited STI to help out in the school with their expertise in finance and involvement in school administration. The Benitez family entrusted the well-being and development of the school and provided qualifying shares to the Tanco Group so they could be part of the policymaking process in the Board.
But what kind of policymaking fails to consider the many different stakeholders, primarily the students and their families?
Again, any kind of development should involve a more collaborative, constructive discussion with stakeholders.
When the appearance of a great school that has been around for decades is about to be radically transformed, shouldn’t the students, parent and teachers be shown what is going to happen? Shouldn’t they have a say in it?
And again, what is up with this wave of towers being built all over our cities, in central and suburban locations? Are we in a global race for height, the higher the building the better, never mind if there not enough open spaces and parks?
We are not enemies of business or development. We are simply shocked at the thoughtlessness with which private developers (with the blessings of the government) are building condominiums left and right with no overall idea of how they contribute to the community on which they are built.
Buildings in cities should not be designed in isolation, but in relation to the places in which they are set, whether these are views to and from heritage sites (like the Torre De Manila in relation to the Rizal Monument), or the fabric of a community like JASMS-QC.