Being a neophyte lawmaker, former Olympian and now Makati representative Monsour del Rosario admits he is loath to give speeches at Congress while he learns the ropes of legislative work.
But the former movie actor and city councilor told the Manila Standard he had to “jump the gun” in Congress last week when rumors broke out that the City of Manila was already “favorably looking” at the real estate deal offered by businessman Enrique Razon to buy the 9.6-hectare Rizal Memorial sports Complex (RMSC) for a P10 billion.
An earlier statement from the Razon group said Manila would benefit from “urban renewal” and unlock more revenues from the preservation and redevelopment of the 82-year-old RMSC.
The statement came on the heels of an online signature campaign among heritage conservation advocates, now backed by ex-athletes and lawmakers such as Del Rosario, opposing the conversion of the sports complex, – cited as an “architectural and historical gem” into a shopping mall.
Originally built in 1934, RMSC was destroyed during World War II, reconstructed in 1953 and renovated in 2011. The complex is owned by the City of Manila and managed by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
In its statement, the Razon group said that for the longest time, RMSC had not undergone any structural and facilities improvements or upgrading, rendering it “virtually unsuitable and unsafe not only for training athletes, but especially for holding not only local but also international games.”
“The City has had no income from RMSC for years now, leaving the city with no funds to modernize facilities,” the statement said.
Of late, the Razon group noted that the PSC had been considering to transfer the RMSC to a different location, possibly Clark, in order to build the Philippine Olympic Village. This new sports complex is envisioned to be a larger and more modern sports complex complete with training facilities for national athletes as well as facilities to host large sports meets.
This is expected to happen when funding for the relocation is complete. In the meantime, the group said the City of Manila had not generated any income from the RMSC which could have been used to preserve the complex.
Del Rosario acknowledged that he is no architectural or heritage conservation expert.
“But being a former athlete, and current sports advocate, I voiced out my sentiments since a lot of our NSA (National Sports Association) friends feel the same way as I do, and so do members of the House of Representatives who love sports,” said the 1988 Taekwondo Olympian.
Del Rosario added that the Philippine Olympians Association, a group of active and retired athletes who competed in the Olympics, is against the tearing down of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex following a meeting with the group last week.
Del Rosario claimed among colleagues who support his call to save the sports complex are Manila Rep. and former boxing chief Manny Lopez, Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo, Makati Rep. Luis Campos, Quezon City Rep. Bingbong Crisologo, Buhay party list Rep. Lito Atienza, Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, and Sen. Migs Zubiri.
Heritage columnist Paulo Alcazaren likewise lamented the possible conversion of the historic sports complex into a commercial development.
“The fear of most conservation advocates is the threat to architectural heritage in a city that is fast losing its historical character and identity,” Alcazaren told the Manila standard in a phone interview. “The fear is that the complex will be turned into a mixed-use, high-density development; all this in an area already filled with malls, supermarkets and high-rise towers.”
Alcazaren maintained that the RMSC is an important cultural landmark, this importance covering both the four original heritage structures and their sites.
“Heritage laws and definitions of heritage covers both sites and structures. In the case of the RMSC structures (the stadia) have no context without their indoor and outdoor spaces – the sports fields, play courts, pools, etc.,” he said.
The heritage advocate likewise dismissed claims that the RMSC is too unsafe to serve its intended purpose as a sports facility. “Pre-war structures were made of solid poured concrete, and are generally robust,” said. “That’s why they were so difficult to destroy in the war. They have been and are being used, so any safety concern would have been raised years ago. There have been no structural, engineering or architectural audits released to validate these claims.”
Alcazaren stressed to the Manila Standard that the RMSC “can and still should” function as a sports complex “because it is needed as one by citizens of Metro Manila in the many universities around it.”
“The city of Manila, private developers, NGOs and the diverse community around it should consider, instead, “adaptive re-use” for the RMSC,” he said. “This is the use of a heritage building for a contemporary function other than the one it was designed for.”
Alcazaren cited examples such as a post office building in Singapore turned into a five-star hotel, a power station in London turned into a museum, a Villa in Venice turned into an indoor basketball facility. “In the case of the RMSC, a portion of it can still be used as a sports complex while the rest of the area is developed creatively to retain its art deco look-and-feel, as well as historical significance,” he said.
Heritage conservationists such as Alcazaren point out that the RMSC contains significant structures and spaces over 50 years old. This means they are protected by the National Cultural Heritage Act (RA 10066).
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) requested the National Museum recently to assess RMSC and consider it for declaration in December. Jeremy Barns, head of the National Museum, told the Manila Standard that the expectation is for the declaration of the four original stadia as Important Cultural Properties (ICP) due to their exceptional cultural and social significance.
The fear of heritage advocates led by the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) were actually confirmed by the statement from the Razon group.
The press release stated that (although the historic facades will be preserved), “… within the façade and walls will rise contemporary buildings that will house modern offices and commercial areas run by smart technologies, replete with modern amenities and green open spaces.”
The HCS immediately took issue with the couched reference to replacing the playing fields with office and commercial buildings.
Alcazaren said on this important point, he is in complete agreement with Del Rosario: the playing fields are at the heart of the legacy of the RMSC. They are the fields of dreams of generations of Filipino athletes.