A Monumental Mistake

A Monumental Mistake

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@MindaNation
The controversial Torre de Manila rises behind the historic Rizal Monument in Luneta Park. Photo from skyscrapercity.com

Much as I try to focus only on those topics that have a direct impact on the lives of Mindanaoans, I just cant resist commenting on the recent full-page advertisement taken out by DMCI regarding their controversial Torre de Manila project. It offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about ways of communicating with an angry public that might help other companies, some of them in Mindanao, that are facing similarly sticky situations.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, the controversy stems from DMCI’s decision to build a 49-storey condominium directly behind the Rizal Monument in Luneta. According to some very vocal sectors the building sacrilegiously obstructs the otherwise pristine skyline that has framed the historic landmark for more than a hundred years. But which, as far as DMCI is concerned after having jumped through all the legal hoops, they are well within their rights to construct.

From a communication stand point, what we have here is a classic example of the disconnect that happens between the logical and emotional levels of discourse. On the logical sphere, where what one says is received by the audience exactly as it was transmitted, there is very little ambiguity in the project, especially from the point of view of the sender. In this case, DMCI.

Reading from their own official statement, they clearly see Torre De Manila as nothing more tan a straightforward “urban solution” designed “to help address the need for mid-income housing and urban renewal… (and to provide their customers) the convenience, security and quality of life they deserve.” In seeking to strengthen their logical legal basis for Torre De Manila, DMCI also cites its compliance with all the rules and relevant laws, their clearance from the National Historical Commission, urban development issues in the City of Manila, and international precedence in the preservation of national heritage sites.

Before commenting on some of the deficiencies of DMCI’s statement as a communications tool and a way to bridge the gap between them and their detractors, let me just say that from a purely legal perspective, I have no doubt that it stands on very solid footing. That said, I also believe that this is one of those cases where one can be legally correct, but ethically wrong. And trying to argue one over the other will not get you anywhere in the eyes of an already outraged public.

What DMCI doesn’t seem to understand, and what it’s statement fails to address, is the anger felt by those opposing their project. And while they took time to outline why they are “right” and their opponents are “wrong,” this logical presentation will not have any impact on the raw emotion that drives those on the other side. It is like talking about one coin but coming from different sides, you will never be able to come to an agreement without taking a leap of faith and accepting that the other side may just have as much “right” as you do. That their perceptions, while based on nothing more concrete than a hunch, still has the force of reality behind it. And attacking people’s beliefs by calling them irrational guarantees that they will only resist harder than ever before.

In order to find a common ground, DMCI should first identify the source of the anger. Is it because of the structure or is it because of the process that went into the building of the condominium? Most often than not, the public’s anger comes from a feeling of being ignored. Of being marginalized from the decisions that affect their lives. And compliance with laws and regulations, especially in the Philippines where confidence in the government is not very high, does not ensure public acceptance.

Once the source of the negative emotions has been identified, DMCI should determine who or what is driving the anger. While there will always be those who are using the issue for their own agenda, there are also legitimate groups who have real grievances. These are the people DMCI should reach out too. Maybe even form a community organization that would work towards finding an acceptable solution. These should be sincere efforts to bridge the gap and not just public relations damage control.

Lastly, DMCI should look for ways to widen the discussions with the public. The unknown is also a potent force in creating anger and anxiety, particularly in issues that are emotionally charged. By engaging the public in dialogues across all platforms of media, traditional and social, they will be able to reassure the people that, at the very least, they are listening to their concerns. This way also, by their reasonableness, they will be able to expose the extremists and the crazies whose anarchic views leave no room for compromise. DMCI should not be afraid to talk to the community, even when they may not always agree, these can be a rich source for demonstrating that they can do better.

So, Grace Poe wants to be President. And if the surveys are right, majority of Filipinos want her to be the President too. But from what we’ve been hearing through the political grapevines, the decision of whether or not the first term lady senator would actually take the plunge rests entirely on her good friend, advisor, and constant companion, Chiz “The Whiz” Escudero. After orchestrating the ascension of Jojo Binay to the office of the Vice President, he has somehow maneuvered himself to be in the perfect position to ride the coattails of Poe towards the same seat in 2016.

If Chiz manages to pull this off, it would cap off a wild series of horse trading and back channel negotiations that has seen the political fortunes of these would-be Presidents rise and fall in dizzying fashion. Whether it is Binay, Poe, Roxas, or Duterte, the one thing that is clear is that people are having a hell of a time keeping up with all the issues being brought out about each candidate. And with the expansion of media platforms into the real of the social networks, the slightest rumor can disrupt even the best laid communications plan.

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In the wings of all these political maneuverings, President Aquino went about with the regular business of government by signing RA 10668, or the Liberalized Cabotage Law, which would now allow for much, much cheaper shipment rates of foreign goods all over the Philippines. Prior to this law it was cheaper to send goods to and from abroad than it was to send them from Manila to Davao.

As an example of the impact that this new law would have on Mindanao development, the President cited the case of a cargo container from Cagayon de Oro going to Hong Kong. He explained that in the past it would have cost US$ 1,264, of which eighty-eight percent or US$ 1,120 to ship it from Cagayan de Oro to Manila, and only US$ 144 from Manila to Hong Kong. “Because of the amended Cabotage Law, shippers from Cagayan de Oro can go straight to Hong Kong. They will pay only US$ 500. They will be able to save US$ 746 per container,” this the President says, would end the absurdity of the situation where the Philippines has one of the world’s most expensive shipping costs despite having some of the largest shipyards, and being home to one-fourth of the world’s seafarers. This development is a clear victory for the people in Mindanao. Finally the stranglehold on shipping, which has favored the interests of Metro Manila over the rest of the country has been broken.


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