Chair William “Butch” Ramirez of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) does not bother to hide his excitement about the planned transfer of his office, personnel and the athletes under his care to a spanking new sports complex that would rise in Clarkfield, Pampanga.
“We need excellent facilities and dormitories for the athletes, as well as good coaches if we want to win medals in the Olympics and other competitions,” he explained.
He believes the roughly 1,000 Filipino athletes under the PSC’s wing would have this chance if the PSC and moved to the proposed 100-hectare Philippine Sports City under the control of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA).
Ramirez currently holds office at the fourth floor of the administration building, a forgotten Art Deco beauty inside the historic Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC). The property sits on an 8.4-hectare prime property in Manila’s fifth district adjacent to De La Salle University.
RMSC has venues for boxing, gymnastics, taekwondo, badminton, bowling, baseball, track and field, tennis and other sports. Its famed football stadium (where The Beatles held its concert in the 1960s) can seat 30,000 guests.
Trouble is, the facilities have seen better days and have hardly enjoyed any improvements since the complex opened in 1934.
“Look at this place. Is it conducive for the training of athletes? The pollution, the environment. Paglabas ng athletes ang daming bars. Puwede pang masagasaan ng pedicab. Kapag nakita mo ang mga tulugan ng athletes, talagang maaawa ka. The plan is to provide housing for athletes, build a better sports complex na malayo (sa bars). Mahirap lumabas sa BCDA,” he noted.
Ramirez and his athletes might be thrilled at the move, but heritage conservationists are worried about the future of RMSC. This following reports that businessman Ricky Razon and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada are deep in discussions about turning it into a mall/commercial center boasting smart technology.
Conservationists are jittery about the possibility that the 82-year-old structures inside RMSC, particularly the administration building, would be demolished to give way to the planned mall.
Perhaps Razon can take a look at the decrepit Harrison Plaza across the street for possible purchase and improvement if he is serious about his mall plans, suggested members of the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS).
In a statement, HCS insists that RMSC, “one of the last surviving prewar structures in the city,” should remain a sports complex dedicated to the people of Manila.
“Although the proposed preservation of the facade is a necessary first step, it is merely a token gesture of conservation. Conservation requires understanding why the structure is important to the people, and how that importance can be communicated to future generations,” HCS said in a statement.
HCS is not convinced that City Hall would not sell RMSC. It anchors hope on the plan of the National Museum to declare RMSC, including the four stadia within the complex, as an “Important Cultural Property” due to their “exceptional cultural significance.”
HSC’s Mark Richard Evidente, a lawyer and environment planning specialist, said Republic Act 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act, creates a Philippine Registry of Cultural Property mandated to preserve historic buildings that are “over 50 years old.”
Evidente said even if PSC does not own buildings inside the complex, the law is not clear whether a new owner can simply demolish or alter the 87-year old structures inside RMSC.
“It would probably need to go through some kind of approval through the Office of the President or Congress. In either case, I think there might be an uphill climb for the people involved (in a possible purchase),” he warned.
Keeping the heritage
Architect and cultural heritage planner Augusto “Toti” Villalon lamented that the “misconception among developers and city authorities about heritage being anti-development” could be keeping Manila officials from taking a closer look at suggestions to preserve RMSC.
“You can develop that place and still keep the heritage, all the green space and still make money out of it. Take a macro-look (by) combining it with Harrison Plaza which is aching for redevelopment but happens to belong to somebody else,” Villalon said.
Ramirez said he is simply waiting for the go-signal from the Department of Justice, indicating the PSC would not be liable if it left RMSC to the City of Manila.
Ramirez’s predecessor, Richie Garcia, was the one who had filed a query with DOJ.
Once the Offices of the President and the Executive Secretary give him clearance, Ramirez will begin formal discussions with BCDA president Vince Dizon—most likely by the first quarter of 2017.
Ramirez said it was then justice secretary Leila de Lima who “green lighted” PSC’s move to Pampanga by issuing a “positive decision.” However, he did not provide reporters with a copy of the decision during a news conference last week.
Ramirez told reporters repeatedly that while Republic Act 6847 creating the PSC in 1990 allows the commission administration and full control of the RMSC, the land where it stands belongs to the city government.
City legal officer Jose Alberto Flaminiano was on hand to confirm this. He said the city government is in possession of several land titles with the registry of deeds. The papers prove that the city government owns the land where RMSC stands, he said.
Flaminiano added however that there are no plans to sell the property.
“Is Manila selling (RMSC)? We are not. (Former) Mayor (Alfredo) Lim intended to sell this before, but we are not (selling). Perhaps we can enter into a joint venture but definitely we are not selling,” Flaminiano told reporters.