Manila city council suspends Torre de Manila construction
MANILA, Philippines – The Manila City Council has temporarily suspended the construction of DMCI Homes' Torre de Manila condominium until the developers and stakeholders can have a dialogue.
The resolution, approved unanimously on Tuesday, November 26, orders the Manila City Building Official to suspend the building permit for the 46-story tower opposed by residents.
Heritage advocate Carlos Celdran, who was present at the Manila City Council session when the resolution passed, hailed the decision as a victory of "historical significance over reckless development."
Councilor DJ Bagatsing emphasized that the resolution allows for a roundtable discussion between DMCI Homes and the groups who have a stake in the project. The dialogue will hopefully lead to a "Solomonic solution" that could involve DMCI adjusting the design of the building.
"We are not against development. Development does not mean how high your buildings are. It should find a harmony and balance with cultural and historical heritage," he said.
Before the resolution was passed, a Change.org petition with more than 8,000 signatures was presented to the Council as proof of the fierce opposition the project faced.
Started by Celdran, the petition condemned Torre de Manila because of its zoning violations and threat to the Rizal National Monument right across the street.
The building, dubbed "Terror de Manila" by petitioners, exceeds the floor area ratio required of buildings in the area where it stands – an area reserved for schools and government buildings.
It also ruins the so far untarnished frontal view of the Rizal Monument, thus destroying "the sanctity of the Rizal sightline."
The issue is not merely aesthetics.
Torre de Manila goes against National Historical Commission guidelines stating that "monuments should be given due prominence since they symbolize national significance…the Rizal National Monument in Luneta and the Bonifacio National Monument are established as objects of reference. The monument should preferably be the focal point of a city or town center."
DMCI Homes began constructing the high-rise condo in 2012, during the time of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. Despite a similar resolution to halt the project because of its zoning violations, former City Building Official Melvin Balagot granted DMCI a building permit and construction continued.
Despite public outrage over the project, Balagot and the developers continued to "wantonly disregard" resolutions by the City Council, said Bagatsing.
Neither Balagot or DMCI Homes attended public consultations called by the council. An investigation into the matter concluded there was a "conspiracy" between Balagot and DMCI Homes.
Despite Torre de Manila's violations of guidelines on national monuments, the NHCP also turned a blind eye. (READ: NHCP backs off from Torre de Manila issue)
In a letter to DMCI Homes obtained by Rappler, NHCP Chairperson Maria Serena Diokno wrote that because the "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."
Since then, the construction continued. According to a November 13 update on the DMCI website, the slab fill for its foundation was 45% complete and work has started on its lower parking level.
A warning to real estate investors
The resolution has now been sent to the Office of the City Building Official who will impose the decision on DMCI Homes.
Bagatsing is hopeful that this time around, the resolution will not be ignored. Balagot no longer holds the office.
Celdran is confident that the resolution will cause those who have bought Torre de Manila units to balk.
"All investors. This is the signal you have been waiting for. Call DMCI Homes 324-8888 and get your money back," he wrote on Facebook.
He called on real estate buyers to think well before making investments and to stay clear of those that flout laws and mar heritage.
"More than just a victory for the sanctity of the image of Jose Rizal's monument, let this be a wake up call to real estate buyers to make sure that the investment you are looking at follows proper zoning guidelines and local ordinances.
"Usually, if the condominium looks out of place and burdensome, it means that it is exactly that." – Rappler.com