More than a photobomb

photo courtesy of inquirer.net

photo courtesy of inquirer.net

published in The Philippine Online Chronicles, Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Remember the uproar that erupted when Jose Rizal’s ancestral house in Laguna turned green? The National Hero might just be turning in his grave with the recent construction of the 46-storey DMCI Torre de Manila looming in the background against the Rizal Shrine in Luneta – and it will not be because of a less-than-perfect photographic moment.

A petition campaign is presently being circulated at change.org seeking a stop to the construction. The National Commission fo Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the National Parks Development Committee and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines want the building demolished. The Knights of Rizal has filed a temporary restraining order at the Supreme Court against the DCMI for allegedly violating the constitutional provision on heritage sites.

It now seems rather pointless to delve into the legalities of the issue. Certainly, the DMCI had already sorted out all the technicalities involved. The tower was already 19 storeys high as of August 20, despite a resolution issued by the Manila City Council suspending its construction on account of a violation of a zoning ordinance. By January of this year, the Manila Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals (MBZAA) retracted the suspension following DMCI’s appeal. The city council, despite and in spite of continuing protests, did not question the said appeal nor even attempt to challenge the MBZAA’s recommendation.

More than being a “pambansang photobomb”, however, the construction of the Torre de Manila provides us with a stark commentary on the state of national and cultural heritage versus so-called development, aesthetics versus so-called modernization, sustainable urban planning versus urban anarchy, nationalism versus apathy. The construction of the Torre de Manila should not simply be a matter of injured sensibilities over a monstrosity of a tower, but rather, a grim reminder for a nation that direly needs to, as Rizal had said, “lumingon sa pinanggalingan”.

DMCI, in this scenario, represents the prevalent domination of an entity that has the government, whether local and national, at its behest, at the expense of the common good. It is the engineerial force behind other infrastractures that scream affluence and therefore define and design what a city’s perception of ostensible civilization and progress should be – The Westin Philippine Philippine Plaza/Sofitel in Manila, Mactan Shangri-La Hotel in Cebu, Makati Shangri-La, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, to name a few. What the structure that is the Torre de Manila represents is the dominance of commerce replacing history and cultural heritage, profit replacing patriotism.

The Torre de Manila is not the first and it will not be the last. We live in a period when tourism is “more fun in the Philippines”. When devastation has become a smokescreen for profitable investments in the name of rehabilitation and reconstruction. When lives and livelihoods are demolished with impunity to give way to giant shopping malls and commercial complexes.

Still, we have yet to witness this kind of mainstream outrage over violent demolitions of urban poor shanties or blatant land-grabbing of agricultural and ancestral lands.  Some people who are now indignant over the “pambansang photobomb” are interestingly silent, tolerant even, when urban poor settlers and their homes are regarded as “eye sores”, or when indigenous communities are being banished from their lands by huge mining corporations. In their discourse of preserving one picturesque monument, they have trivialized history and heritage by being selective in their “causes”.

What have we got left, really? Incessant flooding is enough testament to how Manila is a city long-ago defiled, how the Philippines is a country long-ago polluted and desecrated. Sure, our history as a nation is symbolized by historic sites, street names, tourist destinations, ancestral houses. In this sense, merit should be given to those who are scandalized and continue to fight against the Torre de Manila project.

Herein lies the problem though, because the main antagonists, the angriest in the furor, are the same ones that have displayed no regard or respect for what our nation’s history has honorably bequeathed us. One is unapologetically Imeldifically pro-Marcos; another an institution that has been riddled with controversies for suppressing freedom of speech and expression, the very principles that Rizal stood and died for; while another a cult sect that reduces Rizal to a godly superhero, totally eclipsing the heroism that he portrayed.

For the record, the Torre de Manila has no business being constructed near Luneta, except for business itself. The sad thing, however, is that the building is almost done. And like Rizal’s green house in Laguna, it might just be old news for the archives. For as long as we refuse to see the bigger picture, we only see the photobomb.

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