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.
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.
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 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.
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.