There is a popular saying that goes something like “justice delayed is justice denied.” In a sense, such saying can be applied to this painfully long-drawn-out story that is the quest for Manila to have a Hall of Justice or a separate courthouse building where its scattered courtrooms can be finally under one roof, so to speak.
But new developments have come up recently which should be a reason to be a bit hopeful. Finally, the Supreme Court has allocated funds for the Hall of Justice to be finally built as bidding the project is being done at this writing. A site for this structure has already been determined as well as the site chosen is itself a landmark in the city, the former headquarters of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) right at the corner of the former Arroceros and Concepcion Streets (now known as Antonio Villegas and Natividad Lopez Streets respectively) near the Mehan Garden and Manila City Hall.
The GSIS Building was completed in 1957, one of the new structures to rise after the devastation of World War II to reflect a sense of optimism and zeal of a country rising from the ashes of war, not to mention having just been granted its sovereignty once more. Its architect is Federico Ilustre, the supervising architect of the Bureau of Public Works who also designed other notable structures built during that time, particularly the Quezon Memorial Shrine.
The building has been described as a structure incorporating elements of neoclassical and modern styles of architecture, giving it a unique look that blends old and new together in a unique design. For almost 40 years, this unique structure served as the home of the GSIS until it eventually moved by the early 1990s to a more sprawling complex at the reclamation area in Pasay. At one point or another, the building also served as offices for the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports, as well as that of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Since then, the old GSIS Building has been under a state of dereliction and decay as it has remained unused for years now, save for its grounds which is being used as a parking lot. Over the years, there have been rumors that the building was sold to a developer, notably to the one behind the mall right across it to serve as the mall’s annex building.
As it turns out, it was not the case so some can somehow breathe a sigh of relief. But that does not mean that the building is safe from the wrecking ball. At this point, the details are murky as to whether at least the design of its facade will be retained for the new Manila Hall of Justice or will a new building rise altogether. Considering its significance in the postwar architectural history of the country, we should at least keep abreast of the developments to come and hope at least that its legacy would be preserved for future generations.
One thing about this news that makes one sigh in frustration is how the saga of the Manila Hall of Justice project has already caused the loss of one important landmark in the city, the old Jai Alai Building along Taft Avenue across Rizal Park. One can recall that the Jai Alai Building was demolished in July 2000 by the order of Mayor Lito Atienza ostensibly to give way for the construction of the Hall of Justice there. But apart from the steel bars that are sticking out at the area, nothing much happened with the supposed plan. And with this latest development, we can look back at the events of July 2000 with a sense of regret and rage that a city’s heritage was lost for nothing. Even worse, it somehow gave to the rise of the infamous Torre de Manila project that is threatening the skyline of Rizal Monument.
We can only the GSIS Building would not suffer the same fate.
Acknowledgements as well to Manila Standard Today