Torre de Manila: No law protecting sightline of nat’l monuments

KD Suarez
Torre de Manila: No law protecting sightline of nat’l monuments
The DMCI counsel says Torre de Manila did not violate any heritage laws because of the 'merely recommendatory' guidelines of the NHCP and the absence of a law specifically protecting the sightlines of monuments

MANILA, Philippines – On the third round of oral arguments before the Supreme Court (SC), the counsel for the developer of the controversial Torre de Manila condominium stressed there was no law against the construction of the 49-storey building just because it mars the sightline of the historic Rizal Monument. 

Answering questions from SC magistrates on Tuesday, August 11, DMCI Homes lawyer Victor Lazatin said that the guidelines of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on monuments honoring national heroes have no legal weight.

“They are merely recommendatory. Like the Venice Charter [on the conservation of monuments and sites], they are not yet customary law but merely recommendatory,” Lazatin said. 

In its 2011 guidelines, the NHCP said that national monuments should be given prominence, and that one measure for preserving dominance is to “keep vista points and visual corridors to monuments clear for unobstructed viewing appreciation and photographic opportunities.”

But during the first round of hearings on July 21, SC Justice Francis Jardeleza told petitioner Knights of Rizal that the NHCP guidelines were not published to have the effect of a law

The High Court is hearing the September 2014 petition filed by the Knights of Rizal seeking to stop the construction of the high-rise condominium because it destroys the “visual dominance” of the icon of the national hero.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and 12 associate justices attended the third round of hearings. SC justice Jose Perez inhibited because his son bought a unit at the controversial condominium. Justice Bienvenido Reyes was on leave.

No violation of laws

During the third round of oral arguments, Lazatin cited the November 2012 letter from NHCP chairperson Maria Serena Diokno, recommending that the Manila City Hall enact “an ordinance designating a buffer zone around Rizal Park” to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident.  

With the absence of a designated buffer zone, Lazatin said that the Torre de Manila violates no heritage or zoning laws.

Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, however, said that this did not automatically mean a go signal from the NHCP. 

“NHCP did not say, ‘There is no buffer, go ahead.’ Instead [Diokno] recommended to the city that they should create a buffer zone,” De Castro said.

In his interpellation, Justice Antonio Carpio repeatedly asked Lazatin if there was a law prohibiting DMCI from constructing Torre de Manila.

“Under the Constitution, what is not prohibited by law is allowed…So you are saying that there is no law prohibiting your client?” Carpio asked. Lazatin answered in the affirmative. 

Carpio added: “What is needed here is a law protecting the monument’s background or sightline. Is that correct?” Lazatin again responded in the affirmative.

This was also one of Lazatin’s key arguments in last week’s oral arguments, when he pointed out that constitutional provisions on the protection of heritage sites cover only the cultural properties themselves, not the background or vicinity.

Lazatin clashed with Jardeleza on this point. The DMCI lawyer argued that the word “conserve” in the provisions should be understood in its ordinary meaning;  Jardeleza said that it should be understood in the context of heritage conservation. 

The SC will continue hearing oral arguments on the petition at 2 pm on August 18, wherein the public respondents will present their arguments. 

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