A battle of the gods in Manila: the Rizal statue

apollon-01I love the invigorating panoramas of nature, of seascapes and rugged rocky mountains, of sunsets and rainbows and rice terraces rising from sea to heaven, of glacial ice fields and storm-swept coasts and lighthouses in the mist. I just don’t expect to find them in the middle of cities.

That separates me from Carlos Celdran on the matter of the Rizal statue and the DMCI high-rise condominium tower being built behind the statue. Carlos finds the tower obscene. Odd for a man who found it appropriate to storm inelegantly into a gathering of religious leaders to pronounce his disagreement with their faith’s free speech. I guess the obscenity of intrusion, like artistic expression, is an individualized experience, there where you find it.

Carlos worships the god of the Full Heart, the passions to be found in freedom and emotion and the joys of artistic expression and being alive.

There are a lot of people, almost 100 million, who worship different gods. One of the gods provides food and safety. He is called the god of Economy, and he celebrates high-rise towers, and jobs and people working and moving on crowded trains and roads, for a booming economy means the infrastructure can’t keep pace with growth, and this is good. The god of Economy loves to see statues in the city with elegant buildings rising to the heavens behind them, and to the left and right, tied together by miles and miles of expressways twisting like sweeping concrete ribbons across the the great stonework mosaic. Rising cities are beautiful, and give meaning to the statues.

We also have the god of Rizal, known in some cultures as Patriotism, a former man elevated to a stature unreachable by we mere mortals who slog our daily way across this overburdened earth. He represents good values, and passion for good works, and education, and the endless fight to carve a nation of intelligence and kindness apart from the greeds and evils of less generous man. He detests chains that bind and arrogant powers who wield their riches blind to the plight of the poor.

In good journalistic fashion, I sat down recently near the ice rink at the Mall of Asia where the gods often gather because they find the refrigeration pleasing. I interviewed these three gods to get their take on the controversial Rizal statue. Or, more accurately, the controversial high-rise condo tower being built behind the statue, blocking the panoramic view.

The god of Full Heart

JA: “What do you think about the condominium tower being built behind the Rizal statue?”

GOFH: “The tower is a horrid monstrosity, a blight upon an elegant horizon, a stain upon the open spaces that best represent the soaring aspirations of our nation, and of Rizal’s wonderful works. Take it down.”

JA: “Do you think of the statue as a great work of art?”

GOFH: “My God, no, man! Rizal is the work of art, a man possessed of qualities that are impossible to paint, or sculpt. He is intelligence, free but directed, good and courageous. He is cultured living, of elegance and eloquence, of the mastery of languages and difference, a peaceful man who deserved to be elevated to stand with us other gods. We need to preserve the purity of his essence with soaring skies and open spaces. That condo tower, that godawful monstrosity of cement and iron, makes me want to puke.”

JA: “Gotcha.”

The god of Economy

JA. “What do you think about the condominium tower being built behind the Rizal statue?”

GOE: “Love it, dude. It symbolizes a rising Philippines, where even the sky imposes no limits. It represents the spirit of accomplishment, of hard labor, of mankind pulling together to achieve wealth and the good life for many. It means that we are succeeding, building a quality into our lives that will care for the poor, feed them, and care for their health.

JA: “What do you think the statue of Rizal represents?”

GOE: “It’s a statement of honor to my friend, the god of Rizal here, who always sought to do good works. His aqueduct in Dapitan was a masterwork of solution, of applying effort and materials to care for the people, to improve their lives. I know of no one who called his aqueduct a scar upon the earth. Man is not put on earth just to stare at horizons. There are plenty of horizons in the Philippines, the most visually elegant place on earth. I’d suggest that if you wish to honor Rizal and beautiful horizons, you’d clean the place up a bit. And stop dynamiting the corals while you are at it.”

JA: “Gotcha.”

The god of Rizal

JA. “What do you think about the condominium tower being built behind the Rizal statue?”

GOR: “How much are the units selling for? Does the Church have anything to do with it? Or the Spaniards? Just kidding. LOL. Frankly, I wish Congress would pass an anti-trust law to spread the wealth a little.  I see that the principals of this DMCI corporation have climbed onto the Forbes list of the richest Filipinos. The oligarchy and backroom deals with politicians here – which probably led to permission to build the tower – reminds me of the Church colluding with politicians to take advantage of the masa. To enrich the rich. But the tower will provide fine homes for a lot of people, and that is good.

JA: “You always were a pragmatic fellow. But there are senators who are passionate about preserving the view behind this statue that honors you!”

GOR: “They would honor me more if one of them summoned up the courage to Chair an Ethics Committee on the corruption within their ranks.”

JA: “But artist Carlos Celdran is defending you, defending the national spirit that is embodied in your good works and martyrdom!”

GOR: “Carlos would do well not to create new gods for people to worship. The godly halls are crowded enough already. Anyway, the statue is just a symbol, maybe encouraging pride, or perhaps encouraging pity for me or even self-pity about how hard it is sometimes to be Filipino.  I don’t want to be a point of pity. In fact, I hereby announce my resignation from godhood. It does not suit me. It’s better to look inward, take account, and work passionately to build a beautiful Philippines. Better to honor me that way, eh?”

JA: “Gotcha”

GOR: “Seriously, what will the units be going for? Those in front will have a nice view.”


38 Responses to “A battle of the gods in Manila: the Rizal statue”
  1. manuel buencamino says:

    Donald Trump is thinking about building a Trump Tower behind the Washington Monument. It will be a dual use building with a casino-hotel in the first 30 floors and luxury condos from the 31st to 99th floor. There will be great views of the Potomac and the Mall. The project will employ thousands during construction and thousands more when the tourists come to gamble.

    Not to be outdone Sheldon Addison will build a Venetian Hotel in Lafayette Park right across the White House and Steve Wynn will build a Wynn Resort at the bottom of Capitol Hill.

    “There are a lot of empty spaces in the nation’s capital that can be put to better use,” said the three entrepreneurs in a joint statement.

    • Joe America says:

      Three more gods to interview, I suppose . . . The “mall” as the huge park housing the monuments and various museums is known, could use some fancy buffers ‘twixt the elite of government and the common folk of DC.

  2. gerverg1885 says:

    Is there any law that prohibits the construction of any structure that would be an obstruction to the view of the statue at any angle? Or is it only the Philippine Historical Commission who issued an order of prohibition?

    The words of Gor “backroom deals with politicians” should remind us a lot about the state of corruption in any level of the government.

    • Joe America says:

      The permitting agency says no laws have been broken, that the condo tower is off the park property with a buffer zone in between. Opponents of the project are looking for “who made the mistake”. That is, they are sure some cheating has occurred and are digging for culprits.

      The tower is under construction, and if it is halted, I’m guessing DMCI would have grounds to sue the city to recapture its costs. So taxpayers will pay. Plus if some new law is passed that no buildings can be built above say two stories in height within . . . what, five kilometers of the statue . . . then a lot of landowners will lose great value and there will be more lawsuits. Passing laws that claim the air above their properties is a problematic approach. Rather like claiming their mineral rights under their property.

      Maybe they ought to consider moving the monument to the baywalk or a mountain top where views can be unimpeded.

      • gerverg1885 says:

        Corregidor should be the more likely spot to transfer since there are no permanent residents there. Or a high place like that other statue of the hero in his hometown in Calamba, Laguna.

        This is the problem when the population balloons to unmanageable proportions and more want to squeeze themselves in small spaces that important landmarks would have to give way.

  3. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    During the time of Marcos kleptocratic dictatorial democracy Imelda revolted against undeveloped agricultural land thereby creating Green Revolution. Any undeveloped what they defined as agricultural land would be confiscated by the regime. It was highly successful! Landowners over 1 Hectare started planting to avoid confiscation. That was my parents told me, never bothered to research it. To this day, we have coconut, nangka, lemonsito atbp. In between the coconut trees he planted peanuts and other root crops.

    Imelda blew into town. She was satisfied with what my father did. No Confiscation! It worked! Green Revolution fed the Filipino people that they’d have enough energy to produce 100,000,000 squabbling, back-stabbing, eng-get, envious Filipinos.

    Condominiums in the Philippines are mostly empty. These Units are Mostly owned by the tisoys and tisays living physically with the Binay Neighborhood. They are investments. Nobody lives there. Because only in the Philippines Law of Supply-and-Demand does not affect condominium glut. Well, Laws in the Philippines, like Law of Supply-and-Demand and Law of Gravity do not work. Laws are just a show and semblance of order and democracy. Just like Supreme Court should be a Rubber Stamped by the President first.

    Only wealthy people (read: corrupt) can afford these condos because they are outrageously expensive in a land of $2.50/day. There is just no way working-class minium-wage commoners can afford these. Developers know if they build it they will come and buy it just for the heck of it and it work like magic just like thoe ghost cities in China. At least it keeps people employed just barely enough to get by day-to-day sustenance.

    Well, to heck with Jose Rizal. He was just a shoo in by the Americans Selected by the Americans because if Filipnos were to choose their National Hero they’d bludgeon each other over it. My Hero should be a revolutionary that take up arms and inspire people. Jose Rizal inspired ignorant illiterate Filipinos indios? Well, that is what the U.P. historians been selling for a long time. I knew who Jose Rizal was. I knew his two books. But never ever understood his writings and what it meant for. I was not inspired, therefore, he is not my hero.


    If anyone builds a condo that overshadows Manny Pacquiao monument, I’d be at the forefront 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      You insult the good Pacquiao by not also citing that he is a professional basketball coach and player, not to mention beer-seller extraordinaire. He’ll be in mainstream movies soon, and Binay is welcoming him to his political team as an aspiring senator. I’m guessing the Catholic Church will make him a priest as well, or skip over the lower ranks and promote him to bishop.

      I was led to writing the blog by the sense that, indeed, the bruhaha over the statue reflects the way gods are made. That the aura of Dr. Rizal is so intense that no buildings can be built around him . . . well, that is not just a remembrance. It is something more.

  4. sonny says:

    Joe, your opening themes on what goes into managing real estate of Manila brought back images of cityscapes of Washington, DC, Manila (US colonial days of Taft & Burnham), and Chicago. The images were of the gov’t buildings, plazas, promenades of old Manila, the making of Makati before Binay days. All this begging the issues of whether we can plan anything for the public good or our own good even. And I’m afraid the answers just push me back to the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking for now. How I wish I joined my 5th grade son in playing the game of SIMCITY cause I probably will look for solace in playing the game with this blog installment in mind. As you can guess I will be listening to Tony Bennett’s BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS in the background 🙂

    • Joe America says:

      Ha, yes, so the simcity statue will have a lot of open spaces and your tall buildings will be wedged into a corner on the other side of the cow pastures? Ahahahahaha. I hear Ray Charles singing “Born to Lose” . . . 🙂

  5. sonny says:

    PS. Chicago’s motto on its seal is URBS IN HORTO (A City in a Garden). Believe it or not, the city government takes the motto very seriously!

    • Joe America says:

      You know, Chicago does a superb job of mixing development with inspiration. I had not quite grasped what the city does so well, and it is that. It is a very different approach than greater Manila’s reactive planning, like pin-ball planning, as development programs careen off of the various bouncers, which are often found in courts of law.

      • sonny says:

        Carl Sandburg wrote this paean to the City of Big Shoulders. I invite bonafide city builders to come see what can be done to any city in the doldrums. (A special dime tour for you Joe when you are in my neck of the woods. Incidentally, Ayers Library in downtown Chicago houses one of the 6 copies of the original of Rizal’s NOLI ME TANGERE. Another has the original city plans of Manila and Baguio drawn by Daniel Burnham.)


        • Joe America says:

          Wow, one tough poem. There is a reason Chicago is a blues, town, too. Of the earth, of the people. Makes Manila look frilly, ala Hollywood. 🙂

          The odds of me arriving in Chicago are about that of either you or me becoming a rich man, but I for sure appreciate the sentiment.

  6. sonny says:

    PPS. If I were a rich man, I’d invite select Filipino and Filipinophiles movers and shakers to form a group similar to THE CLUB OF ROME and make a difference.


  7. Interesting points-of-view 🙂 I admit I’ve only ever considered GOFH’s before.

    GOE has a point when he says the building “represents the spirit of accomplishment.”

    GOR mentioned backroom deals. I’ve read Sen. Pia Cayetano’s remarks that the floor-to-area ratio is almost double what’s allowed. I wonder, if the building adheres to this ratio (number of floors halved), can that be a good compromise?

    • Joe America says:

      I think it is already intrusive at 8 or 9 floors. That leads to the problem. Do you attach “space” to the monument to properly respect Rizal. That is, does there have to be a 3 kilometer “flat space” around the monument to give it due respect. To me, that crosses the line between respect and worship and I’m inclined to ask Carlos Celdran, “Uh, do you know what you are saying here?”

      • Joe America says:

        I would add that Senator Cayetano’s aim is not to downsize the project, but to kill it altogether by finding a technicality that can be used to foist the problem on DMCI. If it is thrust on the regulating agency, the taxpayer will end up paying damages to DMCI plus litigation costs, I would suspect. If I were a bloodthirsty corporate attorney, that’s the way I’d go to get my company’s money back, money that has been spent in good faith to do a good deed. I’m, inclined to ask Senator Cayetano, “Do we really need to go down this messy road?”

  8. cha says:

    While I do find myself squirming at some of Celdran’s rhetoric, particularly as they concern the owners of the structure being constructed, I also do understand and respect where he is coming from.

    Sydney, Melbourne and all other capital cities down under each have their own list of heritage sites that are protected both by law and by some very committed residents seeking to protect what it is that makes their respective territories distinctive from all the rest. All hell will probably break loose if anyone just so much as conceives a plan to put up any sort of structure, high rise and otherwise, that interrupts the view of the open space surrounding the Sydney Opera House. Neither can anyone ever post giant billboards on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and not be met with scorn and widespread antagonism anytime.

    Just as there are values and beliefs that we fight to preserve amidst all the changes and developments brought on by our increasingly modernized life because they are part of who we are, I suppose there are just certain sites of historical and even just aesthetic significance that are also worth protecting. I don’t know if the Rizal monument is as iconic as, say the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York. But maybe it’s about time the city of Manila takes a serious look at which parts of its history and heritage it wants to keep and protect for both current and future generations to appreciate and celebrate its own unique character and identity.

    It’s just unfortunate that the project development has already gone so far ahead before Celdran’s protest has caught national attention. It couldn’t be entirely the developer’s fault as the city government gave its approval in the first place. I suppose the developer can sue for damages later on if they are forced to abandon the project.

    Maybe it is best for everyone concerned to put their heads together with the end in view of finding a solution with the least repercussions to both aesthetic and heritage issues as well as the overall development and ability of the city of Manila to compete strategically with the likes of Makati and Quezon City.

    • Joe America says:

      A very reasoned approach, Cha. And it would end this relentless search for culprits to blame, when there are none. Just a lot of victims, depending on what side of the debate one is on. Or both sides, I suppose. The Opera House is surrounded by parks with the city center not far away. It has the advantage of facing the harbor for an endless expansive view. I could see a place for the Rizal memorial somewhere like that, rather than landlocked where it is.

  9. josephivo says:

    Relying on Gods, that is the problem here indeed. Where is the advice of a city planner? The whole of Manila is already far above any advisable population density. Are the required infrastructures available? I mean sewers and treatment plants, water and electricity supply, roads and public transport…, not only malls. What is the “esthetical” value of the site, the ratio “horizontal/vertical”? What is the historical value of the site? What are the long term plans for the area?

    In the only park of Makati that is privately owned, the triangle, they will build the new Peninsula hotel, the last little lung mutilated. Long live progress, progress for the 1% that is.

    • Joe America says:

      Planning. A fine concept.

      • josephivo says:

        Not only planning, also acting and REACTING requires more than just “religious” thinking. Urban planning is a science, a lot of concrete data are available, widely accepted models exist with Metro-Manila as an excellent example of all that should be avoided, economically, esthetically, psychological wellbeing of the citizens… I want to hear urban planners or city architects opinions on the building, not celebrities or politicians.

        • Joe America says:

          Excellent, excellent point. The same principle goes for the Makati garage. Rather than politicians throwing red meat out for public consumption, lets hear from construction pros.

      • josephivo says:

        For 15 million Filipinos in Metro Manila (300,000 extra every year) it makes no sense at all. It’s the most populated metropolitan area in the country in a land area of only 620 square kilometers; that’s around 24,000 people per square kilometer. That’s more than 20 times the density of people in Calabarzon and around 40 times that of Central Luzon. Metro Manila’s population density is also much larger than Kuala Lumpur’s 2,800 people per square kilometer; Cape Town’s 3,950; Tokyo/Yokohama’s 4,750; Mexico City’s 8,400 and Jakarta’s 10,500. (Peter Walace in today’s FDI)

        Every reason not to build any tower in Manila is a good reason!

        • Joe America says:

          I’d guess that the Manila count includes all the people living in shanties down by the river, or sleeping overnight on the benches of the Baywalk. I figure if good housing moves up a notch – that is, we build more high rises – then all move up a notch, and those sleeping on benches can move to the shanties. Also, it would be helpful to develop real economies in the provinces so the solution to unemployment is not to move to Manila.

          • josephivo says:

            Huge “garden” cities around Manila with good connections are the solution. Change the obscene election system that invites certain politicians to attract squatters.Not towers that increase density. Didn’t see towers that squatters can afford, most are real estate investments of the Ayala’s, the Villar’s, the Sy’s… of this world. Pump up real estate prices is the only motive, not eliminating shanties.

            Bulldozers to create space for infrastructure arteries and green lungs are needed, not towers to serve the 1%.

            • Joe America says:

              I agree with that, actually. A couple of years ago I proposed that the entire area between Subic and Clark be master-planned for “New Manila”. A smaller version of that is taking place now at the “Green City” east of Clark. I’m not so sure I share your view that the purpose of the high rise developments is to pump up prices. I think it is to make money. The projects are moving toward a Hong Kong style small footprint of most of the units. Studios and one-bedrooms, aimed at entry-level owners. I can’t help but think that is an improvement over the slap-dash cement and tin structures of the past.

  10. brianitus says:

    The uncivilized barbarian’s points on this issue:

    1. If people really cared about this, they would’ve opposed that building even before DMCI constructed. Similar case in my neck of the woods: a private village opposing the construction of a smaller bridge across the Pasig River because it means that their private area will go all public.

    2. A case for public protest to bring issues to light. If no one spoke up about it, the issue about the building wouldn’t have made the front pages. Just wondering about residents not asking about that “eyesore” slowly rising out of nowhere to ruin the view.

    3. It’s clear that the priority is the economy. If it wasn’t, then that building would still be a piece of paper today.

    When you don’t know what to do, or you can’t seem to get your priorities straight, consult the stars.

    • Joe America says:

      Ah, we have a saying in America for that idea: NIMBY. Not in my back yard. Build the nuke plant or coal fired plant or bridge or high rise somewhere else that does not affect me. Let it affect someone else. People in America don’t consult the stars, they consult their attorneys. ahahahaha

  11. wjarko says:

    The building development will definitely create jobs during and after construction, there’s no doubt about that. What really ticks me off is that of all the areas in Manila, it had to be right smack at the back of the iconic monument. It sticks right out of the wide open space like a phallic symbol of epic proportion, like its a message from the elites: “Fuck you all, i can do what i want”.

    Its just like the SMDC Blue Condo development at the corner of Katipunan and Aurora Avenues, wherein SM got a way with the zoning exemption. The side where ADMU and Miriam College sits on is designated as ‘institutional’ and therefore had building height limitation. Whereas, the other side of katipunan is designated residential/commericial mixed used zone, where serveral high rise buildings are all ready up and running.

    • Joe America says:

      I agree that planning could have been . . . and should be . . . a lot more thoughtful. But given that the cement is in place, I don’t think going backward helps much. I think Senator Cayetano has more important things to do, and Carlos Celdran would be better served doing whatever artists do during the day.

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