Promising to incorporate recommendations by the National Museum, the developer of the controversial high-rise condominium project in Santa Ana, Manila, welcomed the lifting of the cease-and-desist order (CDO) against the construction of the twin buildings on the former Jesuit compound called La Ignaciana along Pedro Gil Street.
Heritage advocates expressed dismay over the lifting and accused National Museum and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) of acting in bad faith. They said the order was lifted despite a previous meeting with Rep. Winston Castelo, chair of Committee on Metro Manila Development of House of Representatives, in which it was agreed to meet this month to clear the jurisdictional issue among cultural agencies on historical and cultural landmarks and properties.
The CDO was issued by NCCA on Oct. 7, 2014. It did not give any reason on its Nov. 6 letter to CDC Holdings president Elsie Chua, informing her about the lifting.
But a source from NCCA who refused to be named said it ceded its authority after National Museum took over the case.
Santa Ana, a declared heritage treasure and archaeological zone, is an important historical and archaeological site as it was the pre-Spanish kingdom of Namayan. Archaeological excavations done on the church patio in 1966 yielded artifacts dating back to the 11th century, evidence that a portion of Manila’s oldest district had been a thriving community and burial site in ancient times.
In a previous interview, National Museum Cultural Properties Division archaeologist and researcher Giovanni Bautista said the CDC development lay outside the historical buffer zone of Santa Ana as indicated by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
Bautista added no significant artifacts were recovered at the site, part of the archaeological buffer zone, when an archaeological impact assessment was undertaken. A clearance was then issued by the National Museum for the developer to proceed with the project.
The National Museum had recommended to the developer to set up a permanent exhibit in the building once completed, indicating the history of its location plus the artifacts recovered at the site, including the replica of the unearthed statue of St. Ignatius de Loyola. The original statue is now in the possession of the National Museum.
The National Museum also suggested the restoration of the clay brick interior of the former Jesuit house, as well as the preservation of the incinerator and machuca tiles and the incorporation of the adobe wall into the new structure.
The developer was also required by the National Museum to “integrate architectural styles in the site development plan that will uphold the cultural and historical significance of Santa Ana.”
“We are confident that we will be able to deliver the recommendations made by the National Museum as well as uphold the company’s commitment to its buyers,” said CDC Holdings legal counsel Marco Bautista in a statement.
“From the beginning, CDC Holdings complied and secured all necessary permits and clearances to develop Rivergreen Residences,” he added.
In a separate statement, the company assured the public that it would incorporate the recommendations by the National Museum to the building’s design.
The machuca tiles will be utilized in the exhibit site and outdoor garden while the adobe wall of the old structure is going to be part of the structure’s design, it said.
“In addition, an archaeologist commissioned by the National Museum will continue to monitor the site during the construction to ensure that such and other elements will be preserved, as well as to safeguard any archaeological materials that will be encountered,” CDC added.
Sylvia Lichauco de Leon of Santa Ana Heritage Tourism Association (Sahta) said the group was “shocked” when it learned about the lifting.
She believed that the lifting of the CDO was due to National Museum claiming jurisdiction on the area, adding that the National Museum and NHCP voted in favor of the lifting.
She expressed disappointment over the overlapping of jurisdiction between the National Museum, NHCP and NCCA over the issue.
This jurisdictional issue has also been raised by heritage advocates on a number of heritage conservation issues, she explained, since it has resulted in confusion and conflicting signals from government, as well as government agencies working at cross-purposes and against the public interest.
She said Rep. Castelo will hold a meeting over the issue on the second week of January.
She said the CDO should not have been lifted until that meeting. She explained that the three government agencies had met with heritage advocates and Castelo over the issue and known about the January meeting, suggesting that the National Museum might be acting in bad faith in lifting the CDO ahead of the meeting.
Another source said the NCCA lifted the CDO when the National Museum exercised its jurisdiction on the area by issuing a show-cause memo to the developer when a museum team was denied entry to the property during a site inspection.
“That forced the NCCA to cede the proceedings back to National Museum,” said the source.
Sahta, according to De Leon, has requested the inclusion of the former La Ignaciana site to the historical buffer zone of Santa Ana, but this was denied by the NHCP even if the same agency (or its precursor, the National Historical Institute), had placed a historical marker there in 1939.
The group, strongly opposed to any high-rise development in the whole of Santa Ana, has found support from the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned.
“The parish supports all government agencies, organizations, and citizens promoting heritage conservation in their efforts to safeguard the historical, archaeological, and cultural heritage of Santa Ana, Manila,” the parish said in Filipino in a statement released on Nov. 17, 2014.
“We are concerned about the influx of real estate developers in the parish. The distinction of the church as an exceptional and the highest structure inside the heritage zone will be lost,” it added.