Malacañang Palace - Residence of the President of the Philippines

From Escolta, one can proceed to the San Miguel district, known for its Spanish-style houses and the Malacañang Palace, seat of the Philippine government. This ornate Spanish colonial palace, with its arches and balconies, was built as a private country house in the late 18th century and purchased by the government in 1825.

Malacañang Palace - Residence of the President of the Philippines.
At first the governor-general's summer residence, it became his permanent residence in 1863, after the Palacio Real in Intramuros was destroyed by an earthquake. The Malacañang Museum is the official repository of memorabilia of the President of the Philippines it located in Kalayaan hall. It features exhibits and galleries showcases the heritage of the Presidents beginning from Emilio Aguinaldo to Benigno Aquino III, as well as the artwork and furniture from the Palace collections. It is located inside the Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall, the old Executive Building built in 1920. In 1986, the palace museum was opened for the public. Visitors are advised to call first.

Malacañang Palace - Modern Time

mosern time of Malacañang Palace
An American executive makeover

In 1900 William Howard Taft became the first American Civil Governor resident of Malacañang. The well-proportioned Taft used to walk from his office in Intramuros back to Malacañang as his daily exercise (There were still no cars in those days and traffic was unheard of.).

As Cameron Forbes took over as governor the palace was getting a bit run down and prone to flooding. William E. Parsons, the government's chief consulting architect, resolved the problem by raising the floor and strengthening the structure. By that time too, the support staff needed to help run a country grew and more space was needed at the palace. In 1918, a decision was made to build an Executive Building as an extension of the original palace.

The Executive building was a masterpiece done in a hybrid -Spanish-Italian architectural style. The architect was Ralph Harrington Doane, Parsons' successor. Doane completed the buildings design as one of his last major works before heading back stateside in 1918. In a article written by Tomas Mapua, who took over Doane's position, the building is described as " …notable for its dignity, simplicity and refinement. It further contains an interest that few structures of so severely Renaissance a type of design possess. It expresses an unusual degree of individuality and represents and activity of marked public importance."

Mapua expounds on this importance, " The conditions that determined the style of architecture were the circumstances imposed by the generally classic renaissance character of monumental building proposed to be (built) in Manila. It (is) important that this edifice should therefore stand out as the basis or the standard of construction in the future."

The executive building was completed in 1921. It did become the standard for architectural design for institutional as well as large residential design (many houses in the new suburbs of Malate and later New Manila emulated the Italianate design of the Executive building).

Further improvements were carried out by the Americans and designed by Mapua and his associate at the Bureau of Public Works, Juan Arellano. A master plans for the site inlcuded a swimming pool, tennis court and gardens. A change in masters brought about more changes in the face and stature of Malacañang.

A hell of a Palace !

In 1935, the US turned over the country to a "government run like hell." Manuel Luis Quezon became the first resident of the place. True to his imposing imperial persona he sought to also transform the palace and its grounds into a mirror of his edifice complex (which later would expand to even bigger plans for a new city…see …size matters).

The old main house was improved and the executive building grew additional rooms on the previously one-storey wings. Quezon wanted to build even higher but was persuaded by Juan Arellano to expand horizontally. This Quezon did by sequestering land opposite the river for a park. The park contained bridle paths and kiosks and both banks were embellished with balustrades and neo-classic ornamentation. Quezon would often take the river to get to his yacht to entertain. Malacañang was now a great demesne with a river running through it.

Plans for a totally new city, named after himself, were ordered by Quezon. But Quezon refused to consider moving the Palace. After centuries of use by foreign masters, its occupation by a Filipino president represented a "racial vindication," as Carlos P. Romulo put it.

On December 24, 1941, Quezon left the Palace for Corregidor, never to return. In 1943, Jose P. Laurel moved in, never really settling in, and in turn was evacuated in December, 1944.

Golf and barefoot visitors

Sergio Osmena moved in on February, 1945, making do with a dilapidated Palace during his brief presidency. Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino enjoyed the comfort of the palace under an independent Republic. A golf course was built on the park grounds (a short par 72, would you believe …and it's still there in great shape, although the last occupant's sport was 'gulp' not 'golf'). These presidents entertained state guests at the Palace with all the hospitality we over-extend to most of our guests. But it was not until 1953 when Ramon Magsaysay opened the gates to ordinary folk, some of whom came barefooted.

At this time there was talk of moving the palace. The old Quezon City plan was being revised into another scheme further Northeast to Novaliches. In1956 the plan was approved for the Capital Complex of Quezon City (which was the official capital until Marcos brought it back to Manila in 1976). A new presidential palace was proposed. It was to sit also in relation to the legislature and the courts complex on a prominent site overlooking the lush Marikina Valley. It took twenty years for the Batasan Pambansa to be built while the rest of the plan did not see the light of day.

A doctor's healing touch

The sixties brought another boy from the barrios, Diosdado Macapagal. Macapagal had worked in the Executive building as an aide to Quezon before the war. He had set his sights to the highest office in the land and achieved it from the bottom up. His stay in the palace was highlighted by a major physical makeover orchestrated by his active wife, Dr. Evangelina Macaraeg Macapagal.

Eva Macapagal's program of civic works and improvement of the palace was likened to Jackie Kennedy's. The Philippines Free Press wrote:

"…all of us who have hitherto frowned at the untidiness of the Palace should rejoice that the tradition of Filipino cleanliness had at last reached Malacañang in the person of Mrs. Macapagal. The broom she wields has had a more instant effect than the broom in her husband's hands. The nation has need of both brooms. The old view was that Filipinos are neat at home, untidy outside; but the evidence today is that we are becoming more and more slovenly everywhere, both at home and abroad, both physically and morally…"

Unlike the next occupant's wife, Mrs. Macapagal did her improvements with a small budget using materials rescued from storage and mostly the brawn of clean-up crews. Mrs. Macapagal rescued the palace's gardens, it's house-zoo and the park across the river.

Martial fever

The next president and his conjugal governance of the twenty years till People Power I brought many changes to the Palace and its grounds. The complex became just that …more complex and later it mutated into a shoewear-endowed fortified bunker and hospital. For their 25th wedding anniversary, the Marcos demolished nearly the entire Palace and rebuilt it in their image. The whole San Miguel district became off limits to ordinary folk. Anti-aircraft guns were rumoured to guard the skies and crossing the Pasig needed documentation and checks by the Marines. This all ended at 9:05 in the evening of February 25, when the whole Marcos brood escaped 'ala Miss Saigon' from the Palace grounds.

The next resident was herself besieged and in danger a few times but God and the people were always on her side. Tita Cory turned the old Palace into a museum giving citizens a peek into where their money had been spent in the last twenty years. Another clean-up job made Malacañang friendly again. The next president, Ramos, turned it into a high-tech palace, though the hubris of the 90's was shortlived.

People Power Palace

Which brings us to the continuing drama of this telenovela of the last resident and the current president. A cast of millions in two venues - the Malacañang and the new Plaza Miranda - the EDSA Shrine, made for a texting and taxing 2001.

GMA, a balik-Malacañang occupant, has restored the tradition of actually living and working in the Palace. But if her return is a reminder of a more democratic tradition, she also lives with the legacy of the past twenty years: of the last four presidents, in fact, three have had to deal with these physical threats of siege. Malacañang, as a symbolic as well as physical center of power, is a site of continuing contestation, the object of desire of ambitious politicos as well as a shrine of democratic aspirations of millions.

Physical makeovers and fancy emblems project images of stability. Those images must be supported with reality. The reality is that Malacañang Palace is an important site of history and architectural heritage that must be conserved and be kept open, like the White House, to the general public. We hope the time can come when all those who visit, do so armed with nothing but the intent to bask in civic pride walking through the halls where our chosen leaders took action to heal and build a nation.

President Macapagal-Arroyo quoted the Bible when she spoke to the staff of Malacañang on her first day, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand."

Malacañang Museum - Kalayaan Hall - The Nerve Center of Power

It was during Governor General Francis Burton Harrison's administration (1913-1921) that the beautiful Executive Building was built at the garden east of the Palace to house the offices of the Governor General and Vice Governor on the first floor, and to provide guest rooms for official visitors on the second floor.

The reinforced concrete building, with precast concrete ornaments on its exterior and handcarved panels and intricate mouldings in its interiors, was designed by Ralph Harrington Doane, Consulting Architect at the time. Though little is written about Doane, his other known public buildings, the Pangasinan Provincial Capitol, and the Leyte Provincial Capitol affirm to his refined skills and sophisticated qualities as an architect. Both Capitol buildings, with high ceilings and wide windows, contain spaces highly adaptable to the tropical climate, and designed in classical style similar to those used by architects of Federal buildings and memorials in America at that time.

The architecture of the Executive Building reflects the mixture of American and Fil-Hispanic influence done in elegant manner. In its interior are intricate wood panels and carvings, and coffered ceilings. And in its exterior are ornamental concrete and ironworks, all serving as testaments to the high skills of Filipino craftsmen. The formality of its planning fits to the bureaucratic nature of the government that it once served. As in his two Provincial Capitols he designed, Doane used classical elements in the design of Executive Building like arched windows and doorways, and classical columns for the porticos north and south sides of the building, and facing what was once gardens. Classical elements like what Doane applied were extensively used by American architects of Federal projects at that time, and evident in traditional Spanish architecture as well.

Governor Francis Burton Harrison must have influenced the design of the Executive Building. In his memoirs, his keen observation of Malacañang Palace reflects his profound understanding of architecture and his appreciation to Spanish builders: "Malacañang Palace is one of the most comfortable and delightful homes in the tropics. The Spaniards were the best of all the European races as builders in the hot countries, perhaps because they learned how to build in their own. The English make themselves miserable in the tropics by reproducing in every respect possible the houses and methods of life of their own cold climate. Malacañang was originally purchased by the Spanish government about a century ago as a casita or country house and has been added to from time to time until it has how huge floor spaces of old hand-hewn hardwood, and is admirably fitted for large entertainments. Malacañang has been greatly enlarged and modernized in the last few years and a beautiful executive office building in the garden has just been completed…"

Governor Francis Burton Harrison's term of seven and a half years was the longest of all American Governors, making it possible for the construction of the Executive Building to finish just two months after his term ended in October 1921. He was succeeded by Leonard Wood, the first Governor General to occupy the Executive Building and the last to hold office in the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros. For the next 16 years, five other American Governor Generals held office in the Executive Buildings: General Leonard Wood 1921-1927; Henry L. Stimson 1928-1929; Dwight F. Davis 1929-1932; Theodore Roosevelt Jr. 1932-1933; and Frank Murphy 1933-1935.

Manuel L. Quezon, the first Filipino President under Commonwealth, moved to Malacañang after his being elected to the highest office of the land in 1935. During his term construction and improvements took place. Little is known of the original plan of spaces in the Executive Building as Doane envisioned largely because original drawings were lost and have yet to be recovered for proper preservation of this historic building.

General Douglas MacArthur's assistant, Dwight Eisenhower, held office in Executive Building as liason between the Field Marshal of the Philippine Army and the President of the Commonwealth. Under Quezon, the Council of State Room and an Executive Office were added, where presidents had meetings during all subsequent administrations. The Executive Secretary also held office in this building. In 1972, the Executive Building was cleared of its offices and employees and the entire second floor converted into the large Maharlika Hall for social functions and official gatherings. While Ferdinand Marcos kept the Executive Office for his use, the Council of State Room was merged with the Cabinet Room and turned into a television studio. The ornate rooms on the ground floor were also turned into offices and heavily damaged.

In 1986, Marcos held his final inauguration in this building; after the success of the Edsa People Power Revolution, President Corazon C. Aquino ordered the building renamed Kalayaan Hall, to commemorate the return of democracy and liberty to the Filipino people. With the purchase of the San Miguel property next door, a New Executive Building was built, and Kalayaan Hall turned into press offices, then a museum during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos. During the Estrada administration it was made strictly a Press Office building, and serves much of that purpose to this day. However, recognizing the historical value of this building, Kalayaan Hall will be used as a museum until the projected rationalization of the Palace can take place. At some future time, this building may once again be used for what it was intended -the offices of the Chief Executive of the land.

The telephone number is (632) 521-2307.

Office of the President of the Philippines:
Presidential Museum and Library: