Senators push for inclusion of sightlines in PH heritage law to prevent another Rizal 'photobomber' fiasco

Senators are now looking into the inclusion of sightlines in the bill seeking to strengthen conservation and protection of Philippine cultural heritage sites through cultural mapping to prevent a repeat of the Torre De Manila fiasco.

The Rizal Monument at the Rizal Park in Manila. (Photo by Juan Carlo de Vela/MANILA BULLETIN)

The issue was raised during Sen. Pia Cayetano’s interpellation on Senate Bill No. 1841 or the bill that seeks to amend Republic Act No. 10066, also known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

Authors of the bill include Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Senators Nancy Binay, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, Cynthia Villar, and Robinhood “Robin” Padilla.

Cayetano expressed her support for the inclusion of the sightline provision in Senate Bill No. 1841, as she recalled the government’s legal battle against Torre De Manila’s developer, DMCI Homes. 

The Supreme Court, in 2017, ruled in favor of DMCI Homes arguing that the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 has no provision regarding sightlines. 

Cayetano pointed out that while the Torre de Manila was not built beside the Rizal Monument in Manila, heritage experts and advocates agree that the edifice “is in the sightline” and ruins the visual sightline.

“It is a fact, it is a visual eyesore. You can now never ever take a photo of the Rizal Monument in front and not see the building,” Cayetano said during the Senate plenary session on Tuesday, March 7.

“For you to hide that building you now have to angle or take a side picture (of the Rizal Monument) so it ruined the sightline. So I support this provision,” she stressed. 

Legarda, sponsor and defender of the bill, agreed with Cayetano, saying sightlines are an important part of cultural mapping activities “because monuments and sights cannot be separate from the context within wherein they are located.”

“Government cultural agencies determine which one great property should have protected sightlines and what the extent of the sightlines are. And not all protected property will have sightlines, (but) this would be reserved for the most significant ones,” said Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Culture and the Arts.

“So sightlines hopefully would be included so that this concept would also be accepted and that it would be downloaded to the LGUs (local government units), so that problem of people building large structures, beside historical monuments will not be a problem anymore,” Legarda further said.

Cayetano agreed, noting that the government and other heritage advocates like her, “defended it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

“And it is high time that we make it clear so that this does not happen anymore all over the country,” Cayetano said.

Legarda said it is necessary to put in the sightline provision, noting that the SC decsion precisely pointed out the lack of this particular provision in the law, eventually ruling in favor of DMCI Homes.

“In the SC decision, the SC stated that there was no provision in the law at that time for the protection of sight lines and that’s the reason why I am now including it in the law so that the Torre de Manila issue would not happen again. And that this Torre de Manila issue should not be replicated,” she said.

“So this amendment addresses this gap or deficiency by including sightlines in cultural mapping requirements, particularly Grade 1 properties determined by government cultural agencies to be of highest signifance to the nation,” Legarda added.

“And you are correct, the Torre De Manila is a prime example of (this issue). It can’t be a violation because the SC said there was no law. That is the reaosn why this represenation decided to include with the consultation with the experts…on the importance of sightlines,” she stressed. 

For his part, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, agreed with the argument of his colleagues, noting that the Torre de Manila itself earned the designation of being the “Pambansang Photobomber.”

This elicited chuckles from the senators, including Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel Jr.