Behind Malacañan’s Walls


There are quite a number of historical structures scattered in Manila.  Numerous churches, government and commercial buildings, plazas and monuments have been silent witnesses to the events of the past and continue to be such to those that shape the future of this capital city.  All of these sites have their own share of stories, mysteries, and even scandals, but none of them hold as much power as the one that houses the head of state – Malacañan Palace.

Malacañan Palace (or simply Malacañan) has not always been the official residence and workplace of Philippine presidents.  It started out as a private summerhouse in 1750 and was later on occupied by different Spanish and American governors.  It was only in 1935 during President Manuel L. Quezon’s time that Malacañan became the residence of presidents.  Some such as the country’s first female president, Corazon Aquino; Fidel Ramos; Joseph Estrada; Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III; and current President, Rodrigo Duterte, have opted to stay out of the Main Palace and occupied mansions and guest houses located within the Malacañan Complex instead.


Kalayaan Hall

Malacañan Palace is not open to the public; however, a part of it is.  The Presidential Museum and Library located in Kalayaan Hall offers its visitors a peek not only into the building’s history but also of that of the nation’s itself.

I had been meaning to pay the Museum a visit for years now as a part of my quest to rediscover Manila.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints and priorities, the plan had always been pushed aside.  My sister said that I, together with my mother, had actually already been inside the main Palace when it was reopened to the public after the EDSA People Power Revolution.  Sadly, I have no memories of it because I was still too young.  This then gave me another reason to have a tour of this historical structure.

My sister and I arrived at the Malacañan Complex on a hot and quiet afternoon.  The place was not exactly what I had imagined it to be:  I had no idea that the Palace was inside a residential district.  All along, I thought it was in an exclusive compound and that it was heavily secured by guarded gates.  Well, it was secured all right as one cannot simply enter without being inspected by security personnel, but it felt like I was merely entering any other subdivision in the metro.  Inside the district, there was the San Miguel Church, some parks and markers (which are in need of some improvements and clean-up) and even some friendly neighborhood sari-sari stores.


Old Waiting Room


When we got to Kalayaan Hall, only a handful of visitors were present.  They were mostly children accompanied by their guardians and a few other individuals as well.

While waiting for the tour to start, we were all asked to stay in the Old Waiting Room, the main reception area for the guests.  I was expecting that it was here that a brief presentation about the Palace’s evolution would take place as part of the tour’s introduction.  Unfortunately, the presentation of the story of the Palace’s beginnings never took place.  What did was the visitors’ (the group with the children) annoying selfie sessions, which would continue until the end of the tour.

Have a peek at some pieces of Malacañan’s past.


The Old Waiting Room

There are two of these – one is where the tour visitors are made to wait, and the other is where campaign materials of presidential and vice-presidential candidates are kept – from posters, shirts, flyers to buttons, baller IDs, and even candies.   A music player is present to play the famous and very catchy campaign jingle of Ramon Magsaysay, “Mambo Magsaysay,” which transports guests to the 1950s.   


The Old Governor’s Office


The furniture set used by Ferdinand Marcos when he declared Martial Law in 1972 is displayed here, as well as an antique TV, which shows the video of Marcos announcing the imposition of Martial Law, and the replica of PD 1081, among other things. 



A replica of the pen used to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014



The Osmena Cabinet Room




Many of the chandeliers there are made of Czech crystal.  Cleaning a chandelier can take up to one and a half months!  It also should be supervised by the Presidential Security Group just to make sure nothing gets broken or stolen.  The Czech crystal chandeliers plus the hard wood heavily used for furniture, flooring, and ceiling certainly give Malacanan an elegant and luxurious feel.




Quirino Council of State Room



The Old Vice President’s Office




The Main Hall, the Northeast amd Southeast Galleries

It served various purposes over the decades: as bedrooms, then into offices, and then as a function hall where dinners and lavish parties during the Marcos era were held.  Now, it houses shelves and shelves of books, busts, attires, and other memorabilia.  An area on the same floor has a dedicated section for Cory Aquino and for her son, now former President Noynoy.




A blackboard containing a sketch of Camp Crame and EDSA.  Drawn by Fabian Ver, Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during Marcos’ time, this shows the map where the protesters against the dictatorship of Marcos were gathered.  All it took was a go signal from Marcos and AFP probably would have obligingly bombed these areas.  


Every corner of Kalayaan Hall is replete with history, details I never learned from textbooks.  Being in the same room and halls where women and men of power once walked in left me with a strange mix of wonder, satisfaction, awe, and disgust.  And this came from visiting just one building in the Malacanang Complex.

Overall, the experience was a pleasant one.  It would have been better though if the tour guide had answered some of my questions relating to the Marcoses instead of evading them.  After all, I was there to learn more about history and his job was to enlighten the guests.  I understand his dodging my question about Duterte, but the previous one I think he should not have. I guess he was just being careful especially these two names were hot issues at that time.

What new stories would Malacañan weave this time for the newly elected Chief Executive?  What secrets would its walls keep?  History will reveal in time.


For inquiries and reservations, contact the Presidential Museum and Library through its official website.


How I Met the Met

Whenever I visit Manila, I often pass by and see a certain pink Art Deco building standing on P. Burgos Ave. corner Arroceros.  Parts of its façade are covered in graffiti, and litter surrounds it.  In front of the building, traffic is sometimes heavy, and undisciplined vehicles and pedestrians alike contribute to the bleak scene.  For many, this building is just another of those structures forgotten by time in Manila.  Unbeknownst to them, at an era when the number of vehicles had not yet choked the streets of the city and World War II had not transpired yet, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (often referred to as the Met), had a glorious run.  Its purpose was carried out: different shows and theatrical productions were staged – something that is hard to imagine nowadays.


Even when I was younger, I often wondered what its history was.  I only knew it by its name and its pink hue (which I later on learned was not even its original color).  I know I watched a play at the Met as part of my field trip during my elementary years, but my memory of it is similar to its paint that is blemished and is now peeling off.

Just like many of the buildings in Manila, the Met has been neglected by the government for several years.  There were a number of restoration projects to revive the grand theater, but they were either temporary or worse, completely unsuccessful.

Last year marked another initiative to resurrect the theater and it started when the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was able to purchase it from its former owner, the Government Security Insurance System (GSIS).  The news of its purchase kindled some hope that the Met would be salvaged from further decay.

(note: Click to enlarge photos and see the captions.)

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is how dark the places is.  This is because the electrical wires have been stolen, so there’s no power running in the whole structure.  It’s creepy, actually.

The NCCA, during the latter part of 2015, called for some volunteers to help them for a series of clean-up drives.  Unfortunately, the first few ones were reserved for Architectural students, preventing me and other numerous ordinary citizens to jump at the opportunity to help out.  When NCCA finally allowed the public to join, I immediately grabbed the chance to register.  I registered early because only about 60 people per drive were allowed.  Getting in was difficult; I registered twice, but twice I was not included either.  Thankfully, my third time proved to be a charm and I was able to join the concluding leg last April 30.  Since it was the last chance for the public to attend the clean-up, the NCCA decided to permit more than what was originally allowed.  I, together with my sister and some of her students from her school, as well as other volunteers from different universities, public and private offices, and even soldiers from the Philippine Air Force and the Military, formed the largest number of volunteers – almost 200!  It was beautiful to see a big gathering of volunteers working together to bring the Met back to its former glory.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater is just one of the numerous heritage buildings around Manila, and most of them, sadly, are not as lucky as the Met. They continue to deteriorate and be robbed of their belongings, and ultimately, their future.  Some are even torn down.

I hope that the government under this new administration will come to its senses and see the great significance and vast potential of these structures; heritage laws must be actually enforced.  They can be reused for new purposes, and the government can give tax incentives to those who decide to keep them and reuse them appropriately.  It must be remembered that these are not mere buildings, but structures that have been part of history of the country and the nation.

I am happy that the NCCA came up with this clean-up drive and it involved the public in the theater’s initial restoration process.  I hope that this spark would turn into a blaze and create a greater interest from the public, allowing them to appreciate history more.  Likewise, I fervently hope that this is the start in helping the government see that many people actually do care and that it should a whole lot, too.


After the clean up on the 2F.  If we were to clean everything in this room, it would take us days! So, yes, this is already clean… relatively.

proposed plans for the Met. Photo: METamorphosis FB


To learn more about the restoration of the Met: head over to the NCCA page or the METamorphosis page, the official place for updates about the Met restoration.

Where Wild Birds Fly

Scholars, state university, activism, premiere education – these are the words that are normally associated with the name of the University of the Philippines (Diliman).  It is a premiere educational institution situated in the heart of Quezon City, an urban jungle that is also well-known for its numerous shopping malls, countless hip restaurants, cafes, bars, and some public parks.  Very few would ever associate both of these places with the Woodpecker, the Black-naped Oriole, or the Lowland White Eye – wild birds that call UP Diliman and Quezon City their homes.

Before April this year, I had never heard the names of these birds nor had I even thought of associating Quezon City with them.  My knowledge of birds was extremely limited, and my awareness of the various birds living and visiting the city was almost close to zero.  Maya (Eurasian Tree Sparrow) and kalapati (dove / pigeon) were the only species of birds I thought present in the city, and the others, whose existence I didn’t have any idea about, could only be found in the rural areas.  How surprised I was when I learned that many wild birds actually take flight in the city’s skyline and build their nests in the quietness of the trees.  Some are even frequent visitors coming from other countries to get away from the coldness of their original habitats.


I was made aware of all these when I joined a guided birdwatching tour provided by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines last April.  I saw a poster of the group’s on Facebook inviting everyone to the said event.  It was set at 6:00 am on a Saturday.  And although it was too early for a weekend, and I was not even a bird lover, I decided to join by myself and enrich my knowledge about birds and Quezon City.  It was summer anyway, too, and a nature-related activity was far better than a trip to a mall.

Birdwatching is an activity that observes birds in their natural habitats.  So, a trip to the zoo or an aviary to look at birds and watch their habits cannot be considered as birdwatching.  It can be a mere pastime for others or a mission for some. Whichever is the case, a birdwatcher needs to have the following qualities:


a Blue Rock Thrush as seen from a spotting scope

Patience – You have to wait for birds to appear.  Sometimes you can see them immediately, resting on a branch or swooping some insects on the ground.  Sometimes, you can only see them flying.  And sometimes you don’t even see them at all.  But when you do finally see them, it can be pretty exciting.

Carefulness and Being Respectful –  As much as possible, avoid contact.  Never shake branches just to make them fly and get a close picture of them.  Don’t mess with their nests or eggs.

Quietness – Noise can agitate or scare off the birds, and as someone who would actually want to see them as close as possible without upsetting them, being silent is the key.  This way, you’ll also get to listen to the way these birds communicate.


Can you spot where the (sleeping) Philippine Night Jar is?

I did get to see a number of birds like the beautiful and striking Collared Kingfisher (Kasaykasay), the Pied Fantail (Maria Capra), Yellow Vented Bulbul (Kulkul), Black-naped Oriole (Kulyawan), a flock of Egrets (Tagak), Lowland White-eye (Matang-Dulong), just to mention some.  Many of them I was not able to take photos of because they were either flying in the air or hiding in trees.  I only got to see them via a pair of binoculars or through a spotting scope; the others, I was only able to hear.

Although I was primarily there to observe birds, the activity was also a good way for me to get myself familiarized with some of native trees such as the ones below:


Kapok, a tree that produces cotton-like fibers inside pods



Kapok fiber


a native tree called Salingbobok, whose flowers are a bit similar to a Cherry Blossom’s

I never knew there were a lot of species of birds in that single area alone.  Having a healthy quantity of trees in the university definitely helped in attracting the birds to inhabit that area.  This is then another excellent reason why green spaces should be increased in our cities.  Increasing green spaces in our suffocating urban jungle would certainly provide homes for the birds and fresher air that many urban-dwellers are deprived of.

I’m glad I joined that birdwatching event because the following morning, I became more conscious of my surroundings; I tried to see whether the ones I saw at UP were also present in my neighborhood.  I also listened to the bird calls more.  Suddenly, the birds didn’t sound all alike anymore.  A statement in front of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines brochure could not be any truer:

All you need is to know what’s out there to see. 


For more information about birdwatching, bird festivals, and conservation programs, visit  or its Facebook page, Birdwatch Philippines.

Change Is Coming*



Nothing is certain. The politician you are heavily accusing of corruption now could become the leader that could usher in PH’s golden age. The politician you staunchly support and go great lengths to defend could become the one who would rip the country apart and drag everything to a pool of mud. And that politician you’ve dismissed because you think would die soon might actually live much longer than what you had expected. We will never know, really! It’s curious how uncertainty can be so certain, no? But one thing is definite though: change is indeed coming regardless of who sits in Malacañang. We can only hope that that change is a good one.


*Note:  Although it is used by a Presidentiable as a slogan, the title of this blog entry is not in any way an endorsement of the said candidate.  

Even the Falling of a Leaf

We may not always understand or discover why things happen the way they do, but there really is a reason for everything… and yes, even the falling of a leaf carries one. I never realized how much grace and beauty were involved in the process until I read this.

* * *

“Professor: Have you ever wondered why some trees shed their leaves during the winter? This occurs for many reasons, but the main reason trees do this is to protect themselves.


photo taken at Volkspark Humboldthain in Berlin (2015)

You know, most tress that lose their leaves are in cold climates. During the long, cold winters, the air in these places becomes very dry. This causes the leaves of trees also to become dry. To keep the leaves alive, the trees have to give them a lot of moisture. The problem with this is that the trees could lose too much moisture and die. So instead of giving moisture to the leaves, the trees keep the moisture inside… They keep it in their trunks and branches. After a while, the leaves start to die. As the leaves die, they fall to ground around the trees. When this happens, the leaves actually help the trees survive. How, you may ask? Well, the leaves form a protective layer around the roots of the trees. This allows the roots to stay warm. So, by losing their leaves, the trees are able to live through the winter.”

(Passage taken from a TOEFL book I read a couple of days ago.)

Painting Berlin

Ask anyone where they can see art and they will probably immediately answer “inside a gallery or a museum.”  The streets, the façades of buildings, or doors of houses won’t exactly be considered as suitable canvasses or places to exhibit art works.  But for many Berliners, they are precisely that.

I had the opportunity to visit Germany a few months ago.  I didn’t have any expectations of what the country would be like before flying there.  I knew little about it: World War II, the Cold War Era, and of course, beer and sausages, were the only associations I had.  Street art, which greatly fascinates me, was completely absent from that list.

Berlin, where I spent majority of my stay, apparently is home to world famous street art and/or graffiti art.  I got to know more about these images and the stories behind them, as well as the different techniques involved in the creation of these unique and engaging murals through a couple of walking tours of alternative Berlin.   One tour (Real Berlin Experience) presented the non-touristy side of the city, and the other focused more on street art.  The latter even included a workshop, which taught the participants the basics of street art.

The following images show the various examples of street art scattered in the city particularly in the areas of Prenzlauerberg, Kreutzberg, and Lichtenburg, where the Black Market Collective Gallery, the venue of the Street Art Workshop, was located.  Other art works were also photographed somewhere in Mitte and Friedrichshain during the times when I was out exploring the city by myself.

Mauer Park


Real Berlin Experience Tour



Street Art Tour 


Street Art Workshop


Exploring Berlin on my own


My Favorites



Note: I can no longer remember the details of the tours since this happened several months ago (and no one takes notes during tours, anyway!) so if you see any error or would like to add any information regarding the art work or the exact location of these pieces, feel free to comment. 







Imagine, Manila

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” – Jonathan Swift

“I’ve been to the Philippines, but only in Palawan.  It was goorrgeeous!  You should go there!”  A foreigner I met once in one of my travels encouraged the other foreigners who were with us that afternoon.  He couldn’t stop praising the beauty of the island.  Being the only Filipina in the group, I naturally felt proud.  And then he said, “I actually went to Manila one time.  The traffic was insane!  It was chaos out there!  Kinda messy too.”    He didn’t elaborate further, and I was glad that he no longer did.  As someone who lives in Metro Manila, I know too well what he was talking about.

Congested traffic – what’s new?  Improvements to public transportation are being introduced such as more modern buses, but generally, the situation has remained the same.  In addition, we still have problems concerning garbage disposal, pollution, flooding, neglected sidewalks and bridges, informal settlers, the destruction of heritage buildings, just to name a few.

Everyone knows the plagues that ail Metro Manila, and yet the same problems occur every year just the same; it’s only the leaders who sit in the city halls who do change.  Lack of political will, the absence of cooperation between the leaders and the citizens, a corrupted system may all be the main culprits, but quite possibly too, the absence of a strong vision.  What do we really want our cities to look like?  To be like?

Often, many social projects are short-term, and are coterminous with the leader in charge.  When that politician is replaced and another is elected, a completely new set of projects are carried out, and the previous administration’s – even if its projects are actually effective – are no longer continued, which actually wastes a lot of time and resources.

Some projects are also not studied carefully first before executing them.  For instance, constructing numerous footbridges in one stretch of road only to remove all of them in the end because a new MRT line is soon going to be built can be considered neither efficient nor practical.

Government projects should be done with the citizens in mind and how these are going to affect the whole system for years to come; actions should not be based solely on convenience.  When it comes to providing infrastructure and social services, “YOLO” should not be the guiding principle of leaders.  Think long-term, please!

Recently, a video has gone viral on social media, and it invites people to envisage a new Manila, a better one.  Aptly titled, Redesign Manila, this video, according to its creators from Go Motions Productions, “aims to showcase and invite Filipinos to re-imagine and revive beautiful Manila.”


While not all may see the Manila in the video as the best version of what the city could be, what is beautiful here is not the video itself, but the challenge that the production team has posed to the people who view it.   It dares people to think of a better situation, making others see that it is a possibility and that people should not simply accept the way things are at the moment.  There is a call to IMAGINE, to create a VISION, and that is what is important.  Albert Einstein could not have said it any better:

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Now, whether that imagination that the citizens and leaders of Metro Manila have conjured will remain a fantasy or not, is all up to us.




For more information on Redesign Manila, visit its Facebook page.
Other sites you might find interesting:
On pedestrian welfare: Walk Manila
On Heritage Conservation: Metamorphosis, Escolta, Heritage Conservation Society, Heritage Conservation Society Youth