Advocates of heritage conservation want the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to start drafting a comprehensive plan (not a master plan as earlier written) to rehabilitate the 83-year-old Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC), following the decision to “terminate … negotiations” with Manila City Hall for its sale to a private entity.
Officers of the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) are also calling for a law allowing the PSC “full control” of the 8.4-hectare prime property in Manila’s fifth district where the sports complex stands. This is to prevent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and his political successors from again attempting to sell RMSC.
Manila City Hall insists it is in possession of “several land titles with the registry of deeds” to prove ownership of the land—something that worries those who fear the local government will eventually sell it.
This, despite PSC chair William “Butch” Ramirez’ announcement at a congressional hearing on July 31 that he has withdrawn from talks with Estrada’s team, after seeking Malacañang’s clearance to back out.
“After one year of negotiations, it was not the price, but more of preserving what RMSC stands for—its history, its passion and spirit, which are priceless,” Ramirez told sports reporters.
“PSC officers thought we would just rehabilitate Rizal Memorial following consultation with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP),” he added.
Earlier, Ramirez admitted interest in relocating PSC and about 100 Filipino athletes under its care to a spanking 100-ha sports complex soon to rise in Clark Field, Pampanga province, under the auspices of the Bases Conversion Development Authority.
His disclosure came after rumors that businessman Ricky Razon is eyeing RMSC for conversion into a commercial center.
Insiders, however, recall details discussed on Tuesday that suggest talks between the PSC and parties interested in RMSC broke down because they could not agree on how much the storied sports complex on Pablo Ocampo St. (formerly Vito Cruz) in Manila should go for.
Parties present at the hearing said the BCDA pegged RMSC’s “valuation” at P10 billion. Those who wanted to buy were willing to pay the PSC “only between P2-2.5 billion” for maintaining the property.
HCS president Mark Evidente said the most urgent action was to pass a law “to secure the heritage status of RMSC and its role in Philippine sports and assign the land to the PSC so the commission acquires full control of the area.”
The HCS is heartened by opinions aired by several House committee members who were open to declaring RMSC a property of the national government, if only to prevent Manila officials from selling it.
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, a vocal opponent to the sale, likened RMSC to “Luneta Park that also cannot be disposed of. With RMSC being the single most important sports stadium in the country, it is the obligation of the national government to provide for its rehabilitation even without privatization.”
In a phone interview, Erice concurred that selling RMSC to a private entity would mean “mas mapapaganda, but profit would be the motive if that happens. Dapat conservation and enhancement of the area for the use of the Filipino.”
The NHCP declared the sports complex a “national historical landmark” ons April. The declaration prohibits the demolition of its heritage stadium buildings.
HSC chair Liliane Rejante Manahan warned that until there was a law that makes it clear RMSC should not be sold to a private party, “there is a specter hanging over the building.”
She recalled the old Jai Alai building on Taft Avenue—an Art Deco treasure high on conservators’ watch lists—was demolished in the middle of the night when Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza was incumbent mayor of Manila.
Also, the old Meralco head office on San Marcelino St. was destroyed during the time of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. Concerned citizens lamented the loss of the building designed by architect Juan Arellano.
“Mr. Ramirez sent a letter to the City of Manila putting a halt to negotiations. One of the reasons was because the price was not right. What happens if the price is right?” Manahan asked.
Evidente and Manahan point to the urgency of a conservation management plan (CMP) to ensure that RMSC will be saved.
“Not a mere master plan, but a CMP that will guide development in a way that respects and honors our national heritage,” Evidente said.
Restoration architect Michael Manalo of the National Commission for Monuments and Sites said there already existed a “good mix” of schools, residences and commercial establishments around RMSC.
“What is needed is to fix the linkages from one to the other … It is not the development of the stadium to include other uses that is critical, but the overall plan for the district that seeks to make it more dynamic,” he pointed out.
In his news conference Tuesday, Ramirez said he had realized, after numerous consultations, that rehabilitating RMSC would be the best action for now.
“We have to listen to people, because if not, we might make the wrong decision,” he said.
Ramirez added he intended to keep all moves surrounding RMSC transparent. “Walang hocus-pocus. We will seek a master planner.”