Pia Cayetano calls on Maris Diokno to quit over Torre issue

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Pia Cayetano called for the resignation of National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chair Maria Serena Diokno if she cannot defend the historic Rizal Monument in Manila.

"Those occupying the top level positions of the government's cultural agencies must be willing and able to defend national historic sites. If one cannot find it in themselves to undertake the legal and moral responsibility to do the same, then that person must resign," Cayetano said in a statement on Monday, August 24.

The NHCP is a respondent in the September 2014 petition filed by the Knights of Rizal against the controversial Torre de Manila, a 49-story residential building which heritage advocates have slammed for ruining the sightline of the Rizal Monument.

But the building's developer, DMCI Homes, has insisted that the building does not violate heritage or zoning laws, having been given clearances by the Manila city government and the NHCP itself.

The Supreme Court is now hearing oral arguments on the case. The NHCP used to be represented by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), but the OSG has dropped the cultural agency as its client over differences in their position on the issue.

In a reversal of its earlier stance in January, the OSG last month declared the Torre de Manila illegal, and said there was legal basis to stop the construction of the condominium project because it violates constitutional provisions on the preservation of cultural artifacts.

In a July 29 letter, Diokno criticized Solicitor General Florin Hilbay for backtracking, claiming that the OSG had assured the NHCP that it will be "cleared of responsibility" because there was "clearly no sufficient legal basis" to compel the NHCP to stop the project.

In her statement, Cayetano said she found it "extremely strange" for the NHCP to insist that it cannot defend the Rizal Monument.

"I find it extremely strange that we now have the National Historical Commission of the Philippines insisting that it cannot defend the Rizal Monument when there are many of us, including the Solicitor General, the defender of the Constitution, who believe that we must and we can protect the Rizal Monument under the Constitution and existing laws," the senator said.

She added, "If the chair of NHCP cannot get on board with this, as she has blatantly displayed, then she must resign instead of hiring private counsel to defend her inability to perform her job."

As chair of the Senate committee on education, arts, and culture, Cayetano led Senate inquiries last year on the controversial high-rise project. – Rappler.com