NATIONAL Museum (NM) Director Jeremy Barns has criticized the Supreme Court for its handling of oral arguments during the Torre de Manila case, lamenting that too much attention was given to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and its “self-protecting position.”
He says NM and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) “seemed to be diminished and given little attention, dismissed by some of the justices as irrelevant or, at best, peripheral to the case.”
The hearings at Supreme Court ended Sept. 1, without the NM having been given the chance to air its side, says Barns.
History of monument
“At bottom, I really, really hated the fact that my colleague at the NHCP and counsel just went along with the disparagement by some of the justices of the Rizal Monument as being contrary to the wishes of Rizal himself, or the work of a Swiss foreigner [Richard Kissling], or being inaccurately placed away from where he was shot,” Barns says on his Facebook account.
He explains that, during the centennial of the monument in 2013, “we took a hard look at all this history—yes HISTORY—which the NHCP seems now to belittle, as well as CULTURAL significance, which the NHCP did not even bother to refer to before the Court, before the NM resolved to declare it a National Cultural Treasure.”
The NHCP had given DM Consunji Inc. the go-signal to construct Torre.
“Frankly,” Barns adds, “I wish the NHCP did not exist with respect to the preservation of monuments or built heritage of any kind, and wish they would once again become a national historical research institute, which is their true competence and rightful focus.”
‘Dysfunctional’ City Hall
Barns also airs the need for a separate cultural agency for cultural-heritage protection and preservation and a simplified framework on the declaration of sites and structures, and their protection should not be left to the local government if such properties are of national significance.
In the case of the Rizal Monument, he asks why its protection was relegated to a “dysfunctional local government unit when it is under national jurisdiction since anyone can remember?”
Barns says NM “is willing to say mea culpa, is willing for mandamus to be laid against us in this case if the Supreme Court should so decide, and will be ready to keep the faith, as we feel we must, with all the generations of Filipinos who held fast by the Rizal Monument as one of the preeminent symbols of our national culture, if not our very national identity—a symbol which the very fact of the erection of Torre de Manila, in our view, has desecrated and will continue to irremediably mar for as long as it exists.”
On his Facebook account, Ivan Henares of the Heritage Conservation Society says the NHCP could possibly get away with what it did on technicalities since its letter to former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim sometime in 2012 omitted the line saying Torre was ruining the visual corridor of the monument as stated on its previous letters.
“But that tower will haunt their consciences for as long as it stands. And how the NHCP could just stand there [on Sept. 2] while the significance of the Rizal Monument was being disparaged by some justices is evidence enough that they really just care about themselves and are not willing to defend our heritage,” Henares says.