As Suntrust condo rises, tremors, noises haunt Santa Ana Heritage Zone residents

James Patrick Cruz

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As Suntrust condo rises, tremors, noises haunt Santa Ana Heritage Zone residents

CONSTRUCTION. Suntrust Ascentia builds a condominium in Santa Ana Heritage Zone.

Patrick Cruz/Rappler

After securing an environmental compliance certificate, the construction of Suntrust condominium near the centuries-old Santa Ana Church continues

MANILA, Philippines – The construction of Suntrust Ascentia condominium in Santa Ana, Manila, within the 200-meter heritage zone of a Spanish-era church, has triggered emotional distress to some residents of Barangay 885.

Lena Naval Castillo, who has been living in Santa Ana for more than 55 years, expressed frustration at the tremors and noises from the construction site just right behind their house.

“The nuisance caused by Suntrust seems like they want to stress people out. Yesterday, I trembled in fear because I thought our house would collapse,” Castillo said in an interview with Rappler on Wednesday, August 30.

As Suntrust condo rises, tremors, noises haunt Santa Ana Heritage Zone residents

The shaking also prevented her from doing basic tasks like washing dishes and taking a shower since their bathroom and kitchen were just right behind the construction site.

Having suffered from a previous heart attack, she couldn’t help but worry that the constant daily disturbances might trigger another cardiac episode.

Lena is also worried that the construction behind their house might cause damage to their renovated house.

“I retired properly to have this house fixed, and now they’re going to ruin it?” Lena angrily said.

“Enough is enough, the inconvenience they’re causing is too much. We can’t sleep well at night. We’re nervous that our house might just collapse on us at any time,” she said.

Plant, Vine, Ivy
PROTEST. One of the residents in Santa Ana Manila posts banners in front of their house to protest the condominium construction of Suntrust.

Lena’s concerns echo the sentiments of the neighborhood.

During Rappler’s visit to the village, some residents were at the barangay hall to air their complaints. One of the barangay officials told Rappler that they even received complaints until 2 am because of the construction noises.

Rappler also visited the site on Wednesday, August 30, to request a statement from Suntrust or the contractor about the complaints of the residents. However, the security guard informed Rappler that there was no one available to speak with at that time.

Heritage zone

In addition to the residents’ worries about their homes and personal safety, they are also deeply concerned about the fate of their cherished Santa Ana Church.

The Santa Ana Church, known officially as the National Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned, is a 300-year-old church dating back to the Spanish colonial era, and one of the last remaining major heritage structures of Metro Manila.

A 2014 resolution from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) declared a portion of Santa Ana in Manila as a heritage zone as defined under the National Cultural Heritage Act (NCHA) and provided for a 200-meter radius surrounding the Santa Ana Church where all new developments surrounding it must conform to a specific building character, height, and setback.

The Suntrust development is around 170 meters from the Santa Ana Church.

Road, Neighborhood, City
MAP. This Google Map photo shows that the Suntrust Ascentia construction site is just 170 meters away from the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Abandoned in Sta. Ana, Manila.

To protect their church, the barangay and the Santa Ana Heritage Tourism Association filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Manila Regional Trial Court on March 24.

The petitioners said that the government offices failed to uphold the NCHA, where any construction works within both the heritage zone and its surrounding buffer zone must secure authorization from the NHCP. They added that the Manila Local Government failed to convene the Santa Ana Histo-Cultural Planning Committee, which, under Manila Ordinance No. 8244 of 2011, is a requirement.

They also claimed the Office of the Building Official of Manila acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion when it issued a building permit in favor of Suntrust in December 2020, despite the absence of a “valid and genuine” barangay construction clearance, permission from the Manila city council, an environmental compliance certificate (ECC), and a heritage impact assessment.

On December 6, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a show cause order and a suspension order for the project implementation due to its absence of an ECC.

SUSPENSION. An order from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordering the suspension of project implementation hangs outside the construction area of the Ascentia condominium project by Suntrust properties on March 27, 2023.

The Manila Trial Court, however, dismissed the petition on July 10, 2023, because it has already secured permits from the concerned agencies and offices.

On the other hand, the court did not rule on the authenticity of the barangay clearance, which barangay officials claimed to be forged.

The court said that the National Bureau of Investigation should be asked to examine the disputed documents. The court left this task to the party who felt aggrieved, whether it was the petitioners who allege the forgery or the public and private respondents who allege perjury.

Although the court dismissed the case, it ordered Suntrust to suspend the construction pending the submission of ECC from the DENR and other required clearances and permits.

Following the dismissal of the case, the petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration on July 28. But the court still denied the motion on August 7 saying that it did find a “cogent reason to divert/depart” from its earlier ruling.

The following day, on August 8, Suntrust managed to secure an ECC from DENR as shown in the tarpaulin posted on the construction site.

According to the residents, the construction also continued around the same time.

Advertisement, Poster, Person
CERTIFICATE. Suntrust Ascentia posts a tarpaulin that shows its environmental compliance certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources dated August 8, 2023.

Suntrust Ascentia also posted copies of its permits and clearances from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, DENR, NHCP, Manila City Planning and Development Office, and the National Museum. Residents, however, claimed that these permits are expired.

Advertisement, Person, Text
CONSTRUCTION. Suntrust Ascentia posts a tarpaulin on its construction site in Santa Ana Manila showing its permit from various agencies and offices.

Aside from the noise and tremors, the ongoing construction has resulted in some structural damage. In one of the houses near the site, a resident said that cracks appeared on their floor because of the construction.

CRACKS. This photo taken on Wednesday, August 30 shows some cracks in one of the houses allegedly due to the ongoing construction of Suntrust Ascentia in Santa Ana Heritage Zone.

At least three of the tenants living there have already left because of safety concerns.

Yana Magisa, one of the tenants who stayed also expressed fear, but was left with no choice because she had to finish the contract and her internship in the nearby hospital.

“The mirror in our room is shaking as if it’s about to break,” she said.

Tired from work, she said that they couldn’t sleep because of the noise and tremors.

Initially, Magisa said she and her friends who were also medical interns wanted to extend their contract longer. But now, they are having second thoughts.

Yana’s landlord, Anna Cabrera (not her real name) also raised concern over the safety of her tenants and family. Aside from safety concerns, one of the sources of their livelihood is at stake.

She was worried that people might be discouraged from renting their place because of the disturbances.

In the meantime, the residents are living in fear and uncertainty. They are worried about what the future holds for their homes, their safety, and the heritage of the Santa Ana Church. – with reports from Michelle Abad/

Why is it so hard to save heritage structures in the Philippines?

Why is it so hard to save heritage structures in the Philippines?

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James Patrick Cruz

Patrick Cruz is a researcher and writer for Rappler’s governance cluster. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, he covered local governments focusing on Metro Manila.