Monetizing Rizal: How would an elevated Luneta look like? was also published by The Manila Times on 8 February 2023.
Touching the Luneta, or Rizal Park, in a manner that defiles it is unthinkable. It is an affront to national pride and mocks, if not violate, several laws.
But that is what I have in mind when I dream about elevating 58 hectares (580,000 square meters) of open space that hosts probably hundreds of priceless national heritage treasures, the most prominent of which being the monument of national hero Jose Rizal.
The dream dwells not so much on virtual images as it does on possibilities. At current land values that range from Php400,000 to Php500,000 per square meter in the vicinity, the entire Rizal Park complex has a potential real estate price tag of Php 232 billion. I am sure one or two in government must have already thought of monetizing Rizal, or at least along that line. In fact, a law (RA 9593, also known as the Tourism Act of 2009), mandates government to “develop, manage and supervise tourism infrastructure projects in the country,” through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) under the Department of Tourism.
The investment opportunities that TIEZA has identified for Rizal Park include (1) Development and Operation and Maintenance of Southeastern Esplanade, (2) Redevelopment of Quirino Grandstand, (3) Development of Northwestern Esplanade, and (4) Development of Single-storey concession buildings at the 4 Quadrants of Burnham Green.
There is also a law, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, that underscores the sacrosanct nature of immovable national cultural treasures. Section 20 of that law provides that “[I]mmovable national cultural treasures shall not be relocated, rebuilt, defaced or otherwise changed in a manner which would destroy the property’s dignity and authenticity, except to save such property from destruction due to natural causes.”
The proposal aims to rebuild the Rizal Park in a manner that would not destroy the property’s dignity and authenticity but should rather magnify everything that it signifies. It can lift national pride. It brings to front and center the nation’s appreciation for the birth of a nation that emerged from Rizal’s death and martyrdom in the same exact location.
The other side of the proposal takes into account the commercial interest that it can generate. While a secondary objective, monetizing Rizal and everything that he represents cannot be ignored. This may sound out of order for now. But you and I know that when money talks, everybody listens.
Years ago, circa 2010s, a real estate developer tried–and succeeded–to monetize Rizal by leveraging the volume of views that his revered monument gets from unending streams of tourists. The developer erected a 49-story commercial building that violated the zoning laws of the city government of Manila. The sight of a green open space surrounding Rizal Park, backdropped by nature’s early evening masterpiece drawn live by the sunset of Manila Bay, would have been enough to sell the building (known as Torre De Manila, or TDM) to sub-owners.
Protesters tried–but failed–to stop the developer. The Knights of Rizal (KoR), in its 12 September 2014 Petition for Injunction (a judicial process that aims to stop a specific act) before the Philippine Supreme Court, argued that the issue was of “transcendental importance, paramount public interest, of overarching significance to society, or with far-reaching implication” involving the desecration of the Rizal Monument.
KoR added that completed Torre de Manila structure will “[stick] out like a sore thumb, [dwarf] all surrounding buildings within a radius of two kilometer/s” and “forever ruin the sightline of the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park: Torre de Manila building would loom at the back and overshadow the entire monument, whether up close or viewed from a distance.” It also argued that the Rizal Monument, as a National Treasure, is entitled to “full protection of the law” and the national government must abate the act or activity that endangers the nation’s cultural heritage “even against the wishes of the local government hosting it.”
The process by which the City Government of Manila issued a building permit to TDM also came into question. The Supreme Court recognized the procedural breaches, but three years later, in 2017, nonetheless went on to dismiss KoR’s petition.
Memerized extensively in social media, TDM’s saga started with some kind of dream to monetize Rizal. Men of commerce do not sleep, they dream. It should not take long before they slide their hands into the cookie jar, which the TDM precedent has left slightly opened, to partake themselves not only of the sightline but of the cookie itself.
Physically elevating the Rizal Park can be a win for both the government and private business sectors. It may well be a first Public-Private Partnership of its kind, which has its moorings not on money but on culture.
The stakeholders who matter, namely the Filipino race and the memory of Rizal, who wished a simple tomb and marker for his grave at the North Cemetery before he died, have no interest in whatever form of monetizing Rizal may take. To them, anything that symbolizes the national hero, who sysmbolizes the birth and unity of a nation, would continue to remain priceless.
The actual investment requires moving existing structures, including about 200 full-grown trees, upwards to give way to 58 hectares of commercial space underneath. The exact replica of how the structures look like today would be maintained, except probably renovating the tourism and National Museum buildings in the same manner that the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros was renovated years ago.
Possible additions and improvements are worth considering as well, such as the Quirino Grandstand being transformed into a Roman Coliseum-like stadium, or something that can house 10 times more seats than what the Alamodome in Texas, USA, currently has. A view deck at the back for sunset selfie lovers should also attract visitors.
Perhaps the most compelling add-on would be bike and pedestrian lanes along Taft Avenue and Roxas Boulevard, to be raised up to the level of the elevated Luneta. These people-friendly structures, along with the elevation of Rizal Park itself, must symbolize the hierarchy of values that nourish the nation’s soul: culture and nature first, commerce second.