07/21/10

the “other” mansions of the President

We all know that Malacañang is the house associated with the President of the Philippines, but who would have known that the President, or to be more specific, the Office of the President, maintains a number of other houses (some of them function today as guesthouses) around the area of the district of San Miguel in Manila?

The probably most renowned and has figured in the news recently is the Laperal Mansion or the Arlegui Guest House. Located along Arlegui St. just a few walks away from the Malacañang grounds itself, the closest among the houses to the Palace.

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Readings from the Internet and other sources provide some interesting facts about this house. This house was known as the Blair Mansion, named after an American general who lived there before World War II. And when World War II broke out, it served at one point as the residence of the speaker of the National Assembly (legislature) established by the Japan-sponsored Second Philippine Republic who happens to be Benigno Aquino Sr., the grandfather of current Philippine president Benigno Aquino III. And the Aquino association with the house doesn’t end there. But more to that in a little while. It also served as the chancellery of Germany in the country when it was still under Nazi rule. When the war ended, it served for a short while as the home of the National Library.

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It may have been around the postwar era that the Laperal family got to acquire the property but in 1975, they got kicked out of their own house by presidential security as the Marcos government confiscated it for “security reasons”. (then again, it was after all Martial Law time) Now property of the Office of the President, the house became office of the Presidential Economic Staff (precursor of today’s National Economic Development Authority) before First Lady Imelda Marcos decided to expand the house to grander (one might be tempted to say…Imeldific) proportions and became a guesthouse.

Then People Power came and Noynoy’s mother (and aforementioned Benigno Sr.’s daughter-in-law)  Corazon Aquino took over the presidency. However, as a symbolic gesture of sorts, she refused to live in Malacañang as her predecessors have; she chose to stay in the Arlegui Guesthouse instead. Her successor, Fidel Ramos, followed suit and also made Arlegui his residence. During Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term, the house became the Office of the Press Secretary.

In the backdrop, a long history of a lawsuit ensured between the Laperal estate and the government, with the Supreme Court deciding in 2007 that the property rightfully belongs to the former. Ownership questions aside though, there’s also a dispute in the compensation the government has paid to the Laperals. While the government has already recognized the Laperal ownership of the mansion, the Laperals are no longer keen on living in the house again because of the trauma and the impracticality of living near a high-risk security area. Last I heard, there are a number of interested parties who are looking to buy the property.

Less known and less controversial in nature are these two neighboring houses along General Solano St. in San Miguel, a bit farther away from the Palace grounds and somewhere between the historic San Miguel Church (St. Michael and the Archangels Parish) and the Department of Budget and Management offices.

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Built sometime around the 19th century by the Eugster family, (said to be Hispanic though the name sounds German or English) the house known today as the Goldenberg Mansion served as home of the Spanish Navy Admiral and the Spanish Royal Navy Club from 1897-98. When the Americans arrived, the house served as the home and headquarters of the US Military Governor Arthur MacArthur, father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. This also served as the session floor of the Philippine Senate for its historic first session in 1916. Later on, it was bought by cosmetics manufacturer Michael Goldenberg (hence its name) and was eventually bought by the Philippine Government under the Marcos regime in 1966.

National Artist and Imelda Marcos’s favorite architect Leandro Locsin did the restoration of the house which became the home of a lot of antique furniture, pottery, and books from here and other parts of the world. Until now, it is still used occasionally for official functions. It’s a shame though that access to this place is restricted and not many get the opportunity to see artifacts like Chinese jade furniture, European chandeliers, rare Filipiniana books, even a prehistoric Thai pottery piece to name a few. If you’ve been to Malacañang Museum and have marvelled at the treasures there, what more if one gets to see what’s inside the Goldenberg Mansion.

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Right next door is the Teus House. Nothing much is known about it except that it was bought by the Marcos government around the same time and was converted into a guesthouse in 1974. A well-known Manila decorator named Ronnie Laing supervised the interior design of the mansion and when the Marcoses’ silver wedding anniversary was celebrated in 1979, the anniversary gifts coming from friends were kept in this house. Some of these gifts can still be found in the house. Unfortunately, we cannot be able to view these treasures due to restrictions in place, as with the other Office of the President-owned houses in the area.

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One other house which is of some interest, and not much is also known is the Valdes Mansion along San Rafael St. in San Miguel, near the Plaza Aviles/Freedom Park. Unlike the aforementioned mansions, it has not been as much preserved from the looks of it. Nevertheless, it currently serves as one of the offices of the Palace security.

special thanks as well to Remembrance of Things Gone Awry blog and Wikipedia for additional research material.

© The Urban Roamer