The Manila Central Post Office: History, Legacy, and the Future

Joanna Marie Santos     June 1, 2023

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The Manila Central Post Office: History, Legacy, and the Future

Stood mighty as one of the most iconic landmarks in the country, the Manila Post Office is a symbol of Filipino resiliency that defied the challenges and issues faced by the Philippines for centuries. The recent fire that occurred in the Manila Post Office may have been unprecedented, but the incident was not completely surprising for most spectators. With an undetermined cause of a fire that has preserved this status for more than a week as of press time, it is still unclear why the Manila Post Office burned down and suffered unrepairable damage after continuously serving the country for more than a hundred years. 

The Manila Post Office has a rich history indeed. Declared an important cultural property (ICP) last 2018, the post office has served as the headquarters of the Philippine Postal Corporation, as well as the main sorting-distribution operation location of parcels in the country. The Manila Post Office’s significance is already deeply rooted in the history of the Philippines. With the most recent devastation it has experienced, it is only right to feel regret for the history that was seemingly erased overnight. However, it is important to remember that the recent fire was not the first event that has attempted to bring the Manila Post Office down. As a symbol of Filipino resiliency, the Manila Post Office has continuously raised itself from the ashes, more glorious than the last. 

Manila Post Office: The Beginning And The Legacy

The first known location of the Manila Post Office was in Escolta, near the Santa Cruz church. – Image from Manila Nostalgia

The first post office infrastructure in the Philippines was erected in 1767 under the administration of Spain, which controlled the post office operations to send out and receive mail from faraway parts of the globe, such as Europe and South America. The Manila Post Office, we know today, is a different building designed by Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapua, in collaboration with Ralph Duane in 1926. The building was constructed under the initiative of the Philippine Commission’s Bureau of Posts, which was overseen by the Philippine government that was operating as a U.S. colony at the time.

Post Office view from Jones Bridge taken in 1932. – Image from Manila Nostalgia

The Manila Post Office building was the very first post office established in Manila. Due to its highly efficient, streamlined operations, the original office was once even acknowledged as the leading postal service in the entirety of Southeast Asia in the late 1830s. In its heyday, the office was responsible for more than thousands of ingoing and outgoing mail. Now, the building has served as a national asset that housed many irreplaceable artifacts, historical relics, and the haunting memories of the battle of Manila that also transpired inside the building during World War II.

Manila Post Office before May 2023 fire. – Image from outoftownblog

After World War II and the retaking of Intramuros from the Japanese, the Philippine government took it upon itself to restore the demolished Manila Post Office. In 1946, the building was restored once again, with most of the original design included. The Manila Post Office has been continuing its operations for almost a hundred years as of date. Despite the rapid changes in communication brought by advancements in technology, the Manila Post Office kept its original function as the Philippines’ main sorting and distribution location. 

The Future Of The Manila Post Office

It may have come as a shock to the Filipino public, but the burning and demolition of old, historical buildings in order to open up and utilize its space for a new, and usually commercial, modern building is not as uncommon as one might assume. Many old buildings in Manila are demolished instead of restored, which poses the question of why it’s so common for these historical sites to be removed instead of preserved when they represent so much of our country’s resiliency and history inside their walls.

In a recent interview conducted by CNN Philippines with architect and urban planner Jun Palafox, the hesitation to suggest that the remaining edifice of the Manila Post Office should be reconstructed as a hotel was not even hinted at in the slightest bit.

“I think we should maintain the facade, and then if there is a bigger area of the land, it can be like the Manila Hotel. Maintain the old architecture and maybe, like a taller building behind.”

However, plans to restore the Manila Post Office to its former glory can be expected to be a priority, especially after being declared by the National History Museum as an irreplaceable historical asset in 2018. In an interview with One PH’s ‘Sa Totoo Lang’ on May 22, Manila City Mayor Honey Lacuna addressed the public about the Manila Post Office fire incident and the future of the building. As an official Philippine ICP infrastructure, no new building can replace the iconic Manila Post Office.

“[…under our zoning ordinance,] nothing can be built, nor can we demolish what is built in that area.”

In addition to the protection reserved for the Manila Post Office as an ICP, the Manila City administration also promises to restore the office back to its former glory. With the unbounded support of the National Commission of Culture and Arts and a number of Senate members under the House of Representatives Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts, the future of the historical post office is not blown away with the ashes just yet.

 

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