'Torre de Manila handling sends chilling effect to business community'

August 01, 2015 News

 The controversy surrounding the so-called “photobombing” Torre de Manila has already reached the highest court of the land. The 49-story tower stands prominently within the view of the Rizal monument. Further construction of the high-rise residential condominium has been suspended, awaiting final ruling of the Supreme Court.

Opinions coming from members of various sectors of society, however, have continued to spice up heated discussions about the issue. The Inquirer asked the views of property analysts and architects. For many of them, the clash of culture and commerce, and the subsequent mediation of legal institutions, does not bode well for the business community.

“The way the Torre de Manila project is being (man)handled is a reflection of an uncertain business environment with a deep structural crevice that when left unchecked can lead to institutional loss of confidence,” said Enrique M. Soriano III, Ateneo program director for real estate and senior adviser for Wong+Bernstein Business Advisory.

Soriano added: “It is all about the issue of compliance. If (the developer) DMCI dutifully complied with the permit and licensing requirements from the local government unit, including the various housing and regulatory agencies, then this ruckus should stop immediately.”

Monique Cornelio-Pronove, chief executive officer of Pronove Tai International Property Consultants, told the Inquirer on Friday that the Torre de Manila issue is “a very sad and unfortunate incident that should never have happened.”

She explained: “It is a national issue of significant proportion because it hits our local government and our Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board right into its core. When an investor decides to develop a property, it goes through a rigorous process that can take three years before it actually goes through the government permitting body.”

Pronove showed the detailed timetable, from planning to development, which includes feasibility market studies to bidding to architectural plans that could take three years; the HLURB process requiring 46 steps; six to 10 permitting bodies; actual construction which could take up to three years. She said that from the drawing board to completed structure it would take up to six years.

Pronove stressed that from the city hall alone, the developer has to get “at the minimum 162 permits.”

Pronove said: “The building officials who signed the permits are accountable. When permits are issued, that means that a rigorous due diligence has already been done. With the amount of inspections, clearances and permits needed before and during construction, investors deduce that each official has done his/her job.”

Pronove, who said she has no business relations with DMCI, produced documents showing significant timelines of Torre de Manila’s construction: The building permit was issued on July 5, 2012; HLURB Permit to Sell issued on Aug. 14, 2012; Clearance from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines: Nov. 6, 2012. She pointed out that it took three years for HLURB to issue the suspension of License to Sell of Torre de Manila (June 18, 2015), when already 41 of the 49 stories were built.

Emotions vs compliance

Pronove said: “I respect the conservation of heritage sites, and I respect the opinion of the Knights of Rizal. However, it is not fair when opposition is entertained after the fact. Construction sites are openly seen from which view in the street. There would be cranes hovering behind Rizal during its construction. Why oppose this, after three years, when the construction is already 85 percent complete—well into its superstructure.”

Henry Schumacher, vice president and general manager of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, told the Inquirer: “There is no way to tear (Torre de Manila) down. (DMCI) received all the permits. (I would advise that the) building be finished, then have a huge Philippine flag from top to bottom facing the Rizal monument, and make sure no other building permits are granted there or close to Intramuros.”

According to Pronove, she is against tearing the building down because it went through the process and got the permits.

Soriano added: “Government should not be governed nor pressured based on emotions, but purely based on compliance. First, Torre de Manila is outside the zone and close to a kilometer away from the monument. Second, permits and licenses were issued already, allowing for the construction of the project. Third, there are popular monuments that have been dwarfed by taller buildings. You don’t have to look far. In Quezon City alone, I can easily count a couple of monuments of equal stature where high-rise developments are literally across them.”

Claro dG. Cordero Jr., Jones Lang LaSalle Philippines associate director and head of research, consulting and valuation, said: “We can let the Supreme Court decide on the legality of the permits and the eventual construction of the development. The focus now should be on checking if there are any loopholes/defects in the crafting and implementation and subsequent amendment procedures, of the land use and zoning restrictions, not just in the city of Manila, but in all areas around the country, as well. Another issue that needs to be resolved is the individual mandates of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts as this caused some confusion on the guidelines for building around historical/heritage sites.”

Architect Edgardo Reformado of the Green Architecture Advocacy Philippines said: “Torre de Manila would not have been constructed if the developer was not given the permit to construct. Who gave them the building permit? And while being constructed, why was it not stopped if they saw violations at the early stage of construction? The buck stopped where? Demolishing it would be a waste of effort and energy and, of course, money.”

Architect Froilan Hong, United Architects of the Philippines’ 11th recipient of the Likha Award in 2013, said: “I think it is the responsibility of the permit-granting agencies to be well-informed of any restrictions imposed on a particular place. Other government agencies issuing proclamations in certain areas must also be responsible in informing the agencies that implement controls. If the government issues permits without knowledge of these controls, the developer or contractor cannot be held liable.”

Reformado added: “The best setting for a great monument would be an unobstructed sky as a background. There is now a case whether to demolish the building or not. What if DMCI wins the case? Maybe we could suggest putting up a wall garden as a second wall to the building façade, which might work as a green background. But still, it competes with the monument.”

Hong said: “My suggestion is to clad the entire building with structural glass to make the building not too obvious and reflect the sky.”

Source: The Philippine Daily Inquirer