MANILA, Philippines - Imagine looking at Jose Rizal's monument in Rizal Park, Manila and seeing a high-rise condominium standing right behind it.
This is the nightmare that cultural and heritage advocates like Carlos Celdran see becoming reality if DMCI Holdings completes construction of Torre de Manila, a 46-storey condominium to be located across the street from Rizal Park.
"Everytime you take a photo or look at our national Hero and think of him, you will also take in the sight of this Terror of Manila above anything else," complained Celdran in a Change.org petition he started that now has 7,800 signatures.
But Manila City Councilor DJ Bagatsing plans to file a resolution to temporarily suspend the construction of Torre de Manila until a dialogue between the developer, city hall, and concerned citizens takes place.
"I will bring up the resolution next Thursday (October 17) so the City Council can tackle it on the floor," he told Rappler.
"I believe that development is not merely how high the buildings are, but it has to be responsible development without trampling on our heritage and our historical identity," he said.
“In the last council, we already opposed. But with this petition, we will definitely listen and give a voice to these 7,000-plus people who want to save the historical legacy of the Rizal monument."
But Bagatsing said that Torre de Manila can still rise if DMCI Homes will be open to suggestions from citizens and the city government.
"That's why it's important to have the dialogue. We can flesh out solutions. They can lower the height of the building, make the design more proper and fitting to complement the sanctity of the shrine or plant more trees to cover the tower," he said.
Besmirched national shrine?
The Rizal Shrine is the central feature of Luneta Park, the country's premier national park which was renamed after Jose Rizal whose public execution on its grounds sparked the 1898 Philippine Revolution. The Shrine houses the national hero's remains.
Torre de Manila will be located right behind the shrine, prominently visible to anyone facing, looking at, or taking photos of Rizal's resting place.
But other than being "offensive to our national hero, our national identity," Celdran said the building is a "ridiculous investment" for more practical reasons.
The condominium will be located 40 meters from the busy Taft Avenue and will be sandwiched between Rizal Park and Adamson University.
"Think about the traffic, the congestion and the inconvenience of going through that driveway just to get to the road. The road also seems inadequate for fire trucks should this 50-storey building catch fire," wrote Celdran in the petition.
"Torre de Manila is also located in the university cluster area of Manila, an already crowded area which has limitations on its height as deemed by zoning laws," he added.
Unfortunately, DMCI Homes has not been very open to inputs from the City Council. The company has never reached out to Bagatsing and the other councilors. Bagatsing recalled that out of the many hearings the council invited DMCI to, a staff from the company attended only one.
Photo from CARLOS CELDRAN Facebook page
Zoning laws as stipulated in City Ordinance No 8119 say that because Torre de Manila is within the institutional university cluster, it should only occupy a maximum floor area ratio of 4. But Manila Councilor Ernesto Isip who chairs the Committee on Laws told GMA News Online last year that based on the building's plans, the ratio is at 7.79.
This violation led the Manila City Council to order DMCI Homes in July 2012 to desist from construction. But in "blatant and wanton disregard" of the Manila City Council, the developer proceeded with construction, said Celdran.
According to the DMCI Homes website, the foundation for the building has been completed. As of September 13, they reported that the construction is 10% done.
DMCI Homes said they secured permits from Manila's Office of the Building Official, noted a July 2012 joint committee report.
Representatives from the Office of the Building Official were asked to attend hearings to comment on the matter, but they were a no-show, said the report.
The continued absence of the officials from the department proved their "cavalier attitude" towards the Manila city government and its laws.
The committee report thus concluded "there is conspiracy between officers of subject corporation and certain city government officials and employees that [led] to the issuance of the building permit in favor of the former despite obvious and blatant violation."
Torre de Manila is not the only recent DMCI construction project being fiercely opposed by citizens.
Last September, 1,500 Palaweños marched to protest a coal plant to be built by DMCI Power Corp. The protesters said the coal plant threatens Palawan's UNESCO citation, its endangered cockatoo population, fish sanctuaries and ecosystems. (READ: Palawan may lose UNESCO citation over planned coal plant)
Rappler has been trying to contact DMCI Homes for its side. No one was available for comment when Rappler called their head office on October 11.
Celdran observed the recent proliferation of Torre de Manila ads in media publications. He said this is strange since DMCI Homes claims Torre de Manila units were supposedly "sold out" since last year.
A PhilStar article posted on October 11 announced that Torre de Manila construction is well on its way to completion.
"DMCI Homes is raising the bar of luxurious living in the metro with its latest development, Torre De Manila...Once completed, the project will also allow unit owners to live in perfect harmony with nature," read the piece.
Image from Carlos Celdran
Celdran commented on the article, saying, "This is a lie. It is not on Taft Avenue. It is sandwiched between the old Jai Alai and Adamson's..And it's a ridiculous investment... SUPER flood prone area. Up to the chest at times... And let's not begin to talk about the hazards of a small two-lane road ONLY for a 50-storey condominium. Can the fire trucks fit? Caveat Emptor, buyers!"
The comment was promptly taken down by PhilStar. - Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.