City of Manila

Beyond the Palace: the heritage of San Miguel

Located along the northern bank of the Pasig River, not far from the bustling and often “chaotic” atmosphere of downtown is the community characterized in contrast by a low-key and more “quiet” atmosphere. An unassuming personality of its own, one would not realize at first how important this part of the city is not only in the city’s but also in the country’s geopolitical landscape. This is the district of San Miguel, more known to many as the place where Malacañang is located, AKA the residence of the country’s president.

While this community being the site of Malacañang has somehow helped in keeping its distinct overall character, it also serves as a disadvantage as it overshadows the charm San Miguel has to offer in the midst of rapid and haphazard urbanization, not to mention the perception of security which gives the impression that the whole of San Miguel is a place that is “off-limits” to some traveler.

For one, San Miguel earns a distinction of one of the few places in Manila outside Intramuros that still bear a well-preserved heritage dating back to the Spanish times. A remnant of a time when Manila’s climate, especially that of San Miguel, had a cool atmosphere as global warming and filthy rivers were non-existent before. Its cool atmosphere in those days has made San Miguel a place of choice for a number of Manila’s upper and middle class to set up summer houses and residences in this particular suburb. As was noted on this blog before, Malacañang itself was first built as a summer house along the Pasig River.

an old house along Arlegui St., near Arlegui Mansion
houses along J.P. Laurel Ave.
a house along Gen. Solano St.

Today, a number of old houses and buildings dating back from the Spanish and American colonial period still dote the landscape of San Miguel district. Some are still in good condition, while others sadly have been left in neglect, if not in oblivion to give way to the creeping urbanization. It is a challenge for a district as historic and significant as San Miguel to be able to preserve its heritage while being able to cope with urban developments.

old building along C. Palanca St.
Church of Our Lady of Montserrat in San Beda campus

On a positive note, heritage conservation in this part of the city is laudable; it is good to see that some of these structures are being utilized such as being offices of various government agencies, especially those under the Office of the President, alongside the other buildings that were recently built…

some sources say this is the former mansion of the Romualdezes (who are related to Imelda Marcos), but a commenter said this was a former residence for priests of the nearby San Miguel Church. either way, it was bought by the government in the 1960’s to be a government office building known as Bahay Ugnayan, right across Malacañang Complex and the New Executive Building
Watson Building along J.P. Laurel Ave., built in the 1930’s and is the office of Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino

…or a restaurant like what this family did to their old ancestral house which this roamer recently visited.

La Cocina De Tita Moning

In relation to this, it is good that the residents, as well as the government have some sense of understanding the need to preserve San Miguel’s rich history. It is ironic though that the government while managing to practice heritage conservation in the area has not been able to pursue such advocacy as much in preserving heritage sites found elsewhere in the country, or at least, that is how the government’s actions on such issue is being perceived.

In the end, one can only hope that these structures will remain standing and be utilized fully for future generations to fully appreciate the city and the district of San Miguel beyond the highrises and the chaos that has obscured the old charm that has made Manila the “Pearl of the Orient.”


  • Diowata Choi

    Correction please Bahay Ugnayan is not the former mansion of Romualdezes. Their mansion is located along Gen. Solana along side of Siniang clinic and Helen Curtis building. Then they move to Pandacan, Manila. The old mansion house or known as Bahay Ugnayan was used as the residence of the Parish Priests of San Miguel Church. Then later, the protestants used it as their assembly house, until it was taken by Marcos and made it into government office as Bahay Ugnayan. I know because I grew up in San Miguel near block from old mansion house.

    • urban roamer – I have nothing much to say, I'm the quiet one...which may be why I wander, write, take photographs, and get into social media too much

      urban roamer

      thanks for the info! seems my source may have been on that info.

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