MANILA (3rd UPDATE) – The Supreme Court (SC), in its en banc session on Tuesday, dismissed the petition against the construction of 49-storey high-rise condominium project Torre de Manila, located along Taft Avenue, Manila, giving the green light for the resumption of the construction for the P3.6-billion project.
Voting 9-6, the high court junked the petition filed by the Order of the Knights of Rizal in September 2014, and lifted the temporary restraining order (TRO) it had issued on June 16,2015, which halted construction.
“The court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter; the petitioners (OKOR) have no standing to sue; and they (petitioners) stand to suffer no injury. Furthermore, the court also found that there is no law that prohibits the construction of the challenged Torre de Manila,” the SC said.
Those who voted in the majority included Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano Del Castillo, Lucas Bersamin, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Marvic Leonen, and Noel Tijam.
Those who dissented were Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, who was the justice-in-charge of the case, and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo De Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, Jose Mendoza, and Samuel Martires.
Court insiders said Jardeleza recommended that the petition be remanded to the Manila local government for determination of any violation the construction of the structure may have on the city’s zoning ordinance, in relation to applicable laws.
The Knights of Rizal asked the high court to stop the construction of the project, and order its demolition for violations of the constitutional provision on the conservation and promotion of the country's historical and cultural heritage.
The group also hit the project for violations of Republic Act (RA) No. 4846, also known as the Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act, and RA No. 10066, also known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
In its petition, the Knights had argued that the building "would forever ruin the sightline of the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park."
The Office of the Solicitor General, acting as tribune of the people in participating in the case alleged that:
1. The Constitution enacts conservationist and protectionist policies with respect to the Rizal Monument, a cultural treasure of the nation.
2. The statutory mandate to protect the physical integrity of cultural artifacts covers the protection of the sightline of the Rizal Monument.
3. The zoning and building permits of property developer DMCI, the developer of the tower, were issued ultra vires, in patent violation of Ordinance No. 8119, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, and 69.
For its part, DMCI argued that it was able to secure all necessary permits, licenses and variance for the construction of the high-rise condominium.
MDCI said Manila City Resolution No. 5, dated January 16, 2014 "ratifies and confirms all previously issued permits, licenses and approvals in favor of DMCI."
DMCI stressed that the grant of variance to the Torre de Manila project under Resolution No. 5 is a “legislative act” which “may not be reversed” through a case for mandamus, as is the case of OKOR before the high court.
With DMCI's footprint for the project at 1,639 square meters, DMCI council Victor Lazatin admitted to justices of the high court during the oral arguments on the case in August 2015 that the firm is actually entitled to build only 18 storeys without a variance from the City of Manila.
Lazatin stressed that DMCI was able to get the variance, which is defined in zoning law as "an official permit to use property in a manner that departs from the way in which other property in the same locality be used," and thus proceeded with the 49-storey plan for the high-rise condominium project.
DMCI, however, pointed out, that under the National Building Code, DMCI is actually entitled to build up to 66 storeys with the same footprint.
DMCI also pointed out that Torre de Manila “does not stand on a national heritage site” and that the National Building Code "does not prescribe height limits for buildings.”
At the time the high court issued a TRO on the construction of the tower, DMCI had already spent P2.7-billion on the project.
Torre's developers welcomed the ruling, saying it would allow the company to serve its customers.
"We thank the honorable Supreme Court for its decision. The waiting game is over and we can now service the needs of our customers," said DMCI Homes president Alfredo Austria.
The Knights meanwhile deferred to the decision and thanked the public for its support.
"The Order of the Knights of Rizal respects the decision of the Supreme Court on the Torre de Manila issue. We thank the public for carrying this issue with us and for making the same as a test case for Philippine Heritage for whatever the outcome would have been," the group said in a statement.
"The public support that was expressed in favor of our stand was an indication not only of the importance of the National Monument but also to the continued relevance and reverence our National Hero, Jose Rizal still enjoys. Beyond this, may we preserve the value of our National Cultural Treasures and remain to live the Rizal Way," it said. –with reports from Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News