City of Manila

Roamer at the Palace: A day at the Malacañang Museum (Part 1)

It is a historic day for the Philippines as a new president in the person of Benigno Aquino III assumes the mantle of the country’s leadership. In the spirit of this momentous occasion, the Urban Roamer last week joined the “Power, Palace, and a Shot of Beer” tour of Mr. Ivan Man Dy which took me and some other guests mostly around Malacañang* Museum.

*note: according to Mr. Man Dy, Malacañang refers to the whole Palace grounds: the Palace building itself, Kalayaan, Mabini Halls, New Executive Building, and the park at the opposite end of the Pasig River while Malacañan (the spelling we see on TV during press conferences) refers strictly to the Palace building where the President does his day-to-day duties.

Before anything else, yes, there’s a museum inside Malacañang Palace grounds. If you want to get as close as possible to the country’s seat of power, going for a tour around the museum is as closest as you can get for that experience. That is if you would not mind going through the hassles of making an appointment first; (rather than a regular walk-in visit if you go to other museums) following a strict dress code of no sleeveless shirts, shorts, and/or slippers; and paying an entrance fee of P50 (but if you go to Ivan Man Dy’s tour, the payment for the tour already includes admission to the Malacañang Museum)

Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks: the tour guide
Kalayaan Hall, site of the Malacañang Museum

The museum itself is located at Malacañang’s historic Kalayaan Hall, which was once the Executive Building where the Philippine president used to hold his day-to-day duties.

Our first stop is the room to the right of the entrance which was the Old Waiting Room for those who have appointments with the President. This section now holds memorabilia and other related artifacts from the Spanish era, corresponding to the time when Malacañang was first built by Don Luis Rocha as his summer house around 1750.

As the Rocha family’s fortune take their turn for the worse, it was decided to have the house sold by 1802 to a certain Spanish army officer named Jose Formento. Formento eventually died 22 years later without a heir to leave the house so the Spanish government took possession of Malacañang and became a government property asset that was left barely utilized for almost 40 years as the Spanish colonial government still held office at the old Palacio del Governador in Intramuros.

inside the Old Waiting Room

It took a powerful earthquake in 1863 that destroyed the Palacio del Governador which forced the Spanish colonial government to relocate Malacañang. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but eventually became a long-term one as work started to make Malacañang look more like a palace.

photos of Malacañang in the early 1800’s: more of a summer villa than the palace we know today

At the left of the Old Waiting Room is the Old Office of the Executive Secretary, which has been converted as another section of the museum which deals with history during the Reform movement and Philippine Revolution from 1869-1901. While the Palace was relatively unaffected with the events outside, it’s a nice touch to include memorabilia during that time not only to serve as a walkthrough to Philippine history but also showing how the events outside would to lead to the events that will change Malacañang itself as a whole.

hallway at the back of Kalayaan Hall

sculpture of the Filipino priest-martyrs Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora (GomBurZa)

the one encased in glass is a thimble used in the sewing of the first Philippine flag

In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to a new master, the United States which put an end to the Philippine Revolution by 1901. The Americans decided to keep Malacañang as their seat of power and fully embarking on its expansion, such as building Kalayaan Hall in 1920-21 to be the Executive Offices of the U.S. Governor General. The room opposite the Old Executive Secretary’s Room is dedicated to such a period.

US cartoon depicting then Pres. William McKinley trying to kill the “darned mosquito” that is Emilio Aguinaldo and the revolution brewing at the time (yup, that’s how low Americans look at us at the time)
Malacañang around the early 1900’s

At the right, and also one of the bigger rooms at the ground level is the Osmeña Room  which used to be the Cabinet Room where the President would meet with the members of his Cabinet. The furniture that was used in the room, as well as in the Museum as a whole are still in good condition remarkably.

portrait of Pres. Sergio Osmeña, after whom the Osmeña Room was named
the table where the Cabinet used to hold their meetings

When the Philippine Commonwealth government was established in 1935, it was decided that Malacañang would be kept as the seat of power for the new government, making Manuel Quezon to be the first Philippine President to reside in the Palace.

the Western staircase of Kalayaan Hall, with some photographs and a bust of Pres. Manuel Quezon
Malacañang in the 1930’s; on top is the seal of the Philippine Commonwealth government which was established in 1935

click for Part 2

Many thanks to Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks for the tour around Malacañang Museum. You can contact him through the link for details and reservations for the tour.

© The Urban Roamer

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