Sunday, August 01, 2021

Seares: A Torre de Cebu row? Not quite

IN the current debate or conversation on the issue of the Cebu Provincial Government planning to build a 20-story edifice beside the historic Capitol, these may have been obscured or underplayed:

[] COMMERCIAL VENTURE. The high-rise building is not just to house offices and agencies that occupy the “cramped, space-challenged” Capitol but to earn money from function rooms, private offices, restaurants, and other income-producing outlets.

Capitol no longer be just a cultural site but “a cultural and leisure site,” as disclosed by Provincial Tourism Office’s Joselito Costas at the public hearing on the plan last month. A “Business World” May 21 story headlined the proposed conversion.

Officials, including Gov. Junjun Davide, have focused on the need for space for government personnel and services, hardly touching on the commercial component of the project. They need extra revenue to help pay the loan for the P1.5 billion project.

NHC’s objection

[] ‘BALANCE, SYMMETRY.’ Capitol knows about the objection of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). As early as March 2 last year, NHI informed Provincial Administrator Mark Tolentino that the planned building would upset the balance and symmetry of the Capitol as it has looked for the past 90 years and told him categorically not to make changes in the area “until we approve your development plan.”

Any movement in the project rests on NHI approval, which depends on whether officials will agree to changes, which in turn depends if the revision won’t upset the money-earning goal of the new building.

PB, Land Bank action

[] LAW IS CLEAR. Why then did the Provincial Board this week approve the P1.5 billion budget? Either it knew of the huge legal obstacle and wanted to ram the project through or it gave the OK without much thinking. Land Bank in approving the loan may not have cared how the borrower Capitol would hurdle the law.

The National Heritage Law (Republic Act #10066) is clear about NHCP’s authority to block or issue a cease-and-desist order against any work that “modifies, alters or destroys the original features or undertakes construction or real estate development in any national monument, shrine, monument or landmark...” (section 48 [b]). And the penalty under the said law is not less than P200,000 fine or not less than 10 years imprisonment or both.

As added enforcement measure, the Department of Public Works and Highways in a circular directs OBOs (Office of the Building Official) of local governments not to issue building permit for any construction that violates the National Heritage Law.

Comparing controversies

[] NOT SIMILAR. Is this a Torre de Cebu sort of conflict? Maybe not. Torre de Manila in Taft Ave., Ermita, Manila, which photo-bombs the Rizal Monument, is 49-story high, costing P2.7 billion. The planned P1.5 billion Capitol Resource Center, is less than half in height and floor area. The developer in the Torre case is a private company. The would-be builder in Cebu is the provincial government.

And, most importantly, the Knights of Rizal complaint against the Torre de Manila developer was filed only in 2015 or three years after its building permit was issued. Here, the new Capitol building project is nowhere near ground-breaking and no group is up in arms against it, not yet.


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