Malacañan or Malacañang? Does even it make a difference how one spells it? There are various theories on how the name came about. One, was that the word “Malacañan” came from our Spanish colonizers meaning, “place of the fishermen,” while the more Filipino interpretation breaks it up into three words – “May lakán diyán” (nobility lives there). A more mundane claim is that the Palace was christened after the old name of the street along which it was located, Calzada de Malacañáng (Malacañang Street). As for when you use what – when spelled as “Malacañan”, one is referring to the Palace proper, while “Malacañang” refers to the entire complex – all 16 hectares of it.
For travelers who want to soak up the culture of the Philippines, a visit to the historical city of Manila and Malacañan Palace is a must. Surrounded by beautiful old churches and filled with relics from the past, the historic Kalayaan Hall of Malacañan Palace, or simply “the Palace,” houses the Presidential Museum and Library, affording its visitors a glimpse of the history and heritage of the Philippine presidency, as well as the president’s official residence.
The Summer Rest House
The Palace looks a lot less like America’s White House and more like England’s No. 10 Downing Street – its a lot less grand in size, looking more like a plantation house than an actual palace, and with good reason. In 1750, the Malacañan Palace complex was built as a privately owned summer rest house along the Pasig river by Don Luis Rocha, a Spanish businessman, which is why the Palace sits in a residential area. Before Don Rocha passed away, it was bought by Col. Jose Miguel Fomento of the Spanish Army in 1802 for Php 1,100.
By 1825, the old colonel had passed away and it was acquired by the Spanish government for Php 5,100 and the Palace was used as the summer residence of the Spanish Governor-General. After the June 3, 1863 earthquake destroyed the Palacio del Governador in the walled city of Manila, it became the Governor General’s official residence. A few years later, after sovereignty over the Islands was ceded to the United States of America in 1898, it became the residence of the American Governors, with Gen. Wesley Merritt being the first.
Since 1863, the Palace has been occupied by 18 Spanish Governors General, 14 American Military and Civil Governors, and later, the Presidents of the Philippines. The Palace had been enlarged and refurbished several times since 1750, the grounds were expanded to include neighboring estates, and many buildings were demolished and constructed during the Spanish and American periods. Most recently, the Palace complex was again drastically remodeled and extensively rebuilt during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
Two of the Governors-General, Francis Burton Harrison and Dwight F. Davis, built an executive building, the Kalayaan Hall (Freedom Hall), which was later transformed into the Presidential Museum and Library.
Unlike it’s American counterpart, living within the walls of Malacañan Palace isn’t a requirement of the president, more of a tradition. Among the presidents of the present Fifth Republic, only Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has actually lived in the main Palace, as it was also her home growing up when her father was president, with all others residing in nearby properties that form part of the larger Palace complex. Cory Aquino chose to live in the nearby Arlegui Mansion and her successor, Fidel Ramos, followed suit. Joseph Estrada chose to live at the Premiere Guest House, and the incumbent President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III resides at Bahay Pangarap (House of Dreams), located within the Palace grounds.
Opening Malacañan Palace to the Public
It was the former president Ramon Magsaysay, who kept his promise of being a president for the people by opening up the palace to the public during his term. His administration was considered one of the cleanest and most corruption-free and his presidency was cited as the Philippines’ Golden Years. Trade and industry flourished, the Philippine military was at its prime, and the Filipino people were given international recognition in sports, culture and foreign affairs. His statue greets visitors to the Palace, before starting their journey around Kalayaan Hall.
It is interesting to note that, Magsaysay, whose term was cut short when he died from a plane crash, was a remarkably very humble president, and had the presidential title “His Excellency” removed when addressing the most power person in the Philippines. Somebody else had it put back.
Malacañan Palace as a Prize
Displayed in The Old Waiting Room of the palace, surrounded by old wooden hardwood panels and big mirrors from the Spanish occupation, with carvings of cherubs and eagles looking down from the walls, are campaign paraphernalia candidates used during election seasons, in a bid to persuade the electorate that they were worthy of the powers of the presidency and of Malacañan Palace. One’s eyes flit between the neon yellow Noynoy Aquino shirt on display and the bright orange “Erap Para sa Mahirap” (Erap for the Poor) jacket upon entering the room. There are also various materials from presidential candidates that didn’t win, such as the poster of Jose de Venecia and Raul Roco. The famous jingle, “Mambo Mambo Magsaysay” can be played, where one can appreciate the rock ‘n roll element of the ’50s ditty.
Malacañan Palace as a Pulpit
The room served as served as the Old Governor General’s Office during the Spanish and American colonization, a place where the course of the country was altered from actions that emanated from this space many a time, such as the fate of the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, which contributed to the downfall of the Spanish empire in the country. The First Philippine Republic also breathed its last here, when General Emilio Aguinalso surrendered to the Americans in 1901. It was also during this time that Gen. Aguinaldo was to stay inside the Palace not as a president, but as a prisoner of war.
Quite a number of laws were also executed in this very room, a few of them being:
- Rice Share Tenancy Act of 1933, more popularly known as Agrarian Reform, proclaimed by President Manuel Roxas in 1946 that was effective throughout the country, which provided for a 70–30 sharing arrangements and regulated share-tenancy contracts, helping to subdue the then ongoing farmers unrest throughout Central Luzon
- Republic Act No. 4166 passed by President Diosdado Macapagal, who signed into law designating June 12, 1898 as the country’s Independence Day – the Philippines’ independence from the Spanish, as opposed to the previously celebrated July 4, 1946, when the country was granted its independence from the United States of America.
- Proclamation No. 1081, or the Declaration of Martial Law, passed by President Ferdinand E. Marcos – we all know how that ended, so let’s not get into that right now.
Featured prominently is the furniture set used by President Ferdinand E. Marcos when he appeared on national television to announce the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, a reproduction of the text of Proclamation No. 1081, as well as facsimiles of important documents promulgated by former Chief Executives of the Philippines from Malacañang.
Malacañan Palace as a Stage
Throughout its history, Malacañan Palace has served as a stage for the country’s display of power. Aptly using the Old Executive Secretary’s Office for this purpose, elements that serve to enhance the nation’s dignity are displayed here, such as the Grand Collar of the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja, usually conferred to Heads of State.
In addition, the room also showcases portraits of the First Ladies, the “Official Hostess of the Palace,” displayed around the room, starting from First Lady Luz Magsaysay up to the present time. But with the current president still being a bachelor, and the one before that being a First Gentleman, the latest portrait on the wall is of the former First Lady Loi Estrada. Interestingly enough, former First Lady Imelda Marcos is the only one with a bronze bust on display.
The guestbook signed by the late Pope John Paul II in 1972 is encased in glass.
Also on display are table settings used for official Palace events in a regal royal blue accented with gold trim.
The Osmeña Cabinet Room
Named after the first unelected President of the Philippines, Serio Osmeña, who succeeded President Manuel Quezon, who had succumbed to tuberculosis. Other Filipino vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency were President Quirino for Manuel Roxas, President Garcia in place of Magsaysay, and Macapagal-Arroyo in place of Estrada. One of the more feminine-looking rooms, the walls of are decorated with cotton candy pink and Champagne yellow faux-stone stucco with gold accents, making the very masculine black and red dining set look out of place. It is also interesting to note the different landscaped scenes in the French frieze overhead.
Before assuming the presidency in 1944, Osmeña had already served the country for over four decades: as Governor of Cebu, Speaker of the Philippine Assembly and later of the House of Representatives, senator, and then vice president. The Osmeña Cabinet Room, which was used during the American colonial era as the meeting place of the cabinet and of the Council of State, commemorates the period of history when Osmeña, as the speaker of the lower chamber of the legislature as as Senate President Pro-Tempore, served in the Council of State.
The Quezon Executive Office
Dedicated to President Manuel L. Quezón, who was the first person to use the room as an executive office, The Quezon Room was an addition to the building in the late 1930s, serving as his executive office from his administration up until the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Later into his presidency, with hi health deteriorating, President Marcos had an elevator installed that led to his bed chambers upstairs and his dialysis room below.
In the 1970s, the room became the office of General Fabian Ver, and then under Cory Aquino’s administration, it was transformed into the office of the Press Secretary.
The Roxas Cabinet Room
Once of the brighter rooms in the Palace, with windows that opened up into terraces, is named after President Manuel L. Roxas, who first used the space as the Cabinet Room, with administrations following him using it for meetings and as offices. In 1981, The Roxas Cabinet Room was converted into into the control room for President Marcos’ television studio.
Interesting to note is the Republic Seal engraved on the furniture set and how they are very similar to that of the San Miguel beer brand. No, Malacañan Palace never owned the brewery, but going back to the Spanish and old money, the old San Miguel Brewery use to reside in the Malacañang complex, which has aptly been named the San Miguel District.
The Quirino Council of State Room
The Quirino Council of State Room was used as the meeting room of the Council of State, the cabinet, and the National Economic Council during the administration of Manuel L. Quezon, but was named after Elpidio Quirino, the first vice president to take his oath of office in the space. The room was used by succeeding administrations for important meetings, the signing of treaties, etc. In 1981, it was converted into a part of President Marcos’ television studio, but restored to its original state in 2003.
Colored a shade of ivory and draped with heavy curtains with gold-gilded lanterns lining the wall, the furniture original to the room is also displayed (and perfectly matches the drapes), as well as a portrait of President Quirino painted by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo. Sculptures from the Malacañan Palace Collection by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino are also on display.
The Southeast Gallery
The Southeast Gallery on the second floor of Kalayaan Hall features the memorabilia of the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino – the nation’s first female president, the incumbent president’s mother, and the only president thus far who did not hold any public office prior to being elected the Chief Executive – she was a humble housewife.
On display are some photographs, paintings the awards she received during and after her presidency, campaign materials, and other artworks evoking the life and achievements of the first women president of the nation.
The portrait of Cory Aquino made using nails by Filipino artist Vincente Lopez Vito, Jr., is quite interesting.
The Library & Main Hall
The main hall on the second floor of the building was the site of guest bedrooms when the building was first constructed in 1920, and was then transformed into offices to accommodate the growing bureaucracy during the early years of the Philippine Commonwealth. In 1968, upon directives of President and Mrs. Marcos, the area was cleared and converted into a ceremonial hall named Maharlika Hall (Royalty Hall), where state dinners, large assemblies, and lavish parties were held. In 1972, it was temporarily used as an evacuation center for the victims of a typhoon that damaged a large part of Central Luzon. A few years later, it was from the front west balcony of this hall that President Marcos took his last public oath of office and delivered his farewell speech on February 25, 1986.
Today, the hall houses the main part of the library, with parts of the old state dining table in the center, as well as the Gallery of Presidents – memorabilia of the Philippine presidents who mapped the country’s course, led the people in facing and overcoming challenges, and ensured the stability of the nation for succeeding generations. As the incumbant, and entire division is dedicated to President Benigno S. Aquino III – complete with a life-sized image of himself you can take pictures with.
Each President in the Gallery has his own bust as well as as a suit or a dress they once wore. The suits and accessories of presidents during the Spanish and American colonization is interesting, as there was the predominance of walking canes, a sign of social statues and something Emilio Aguinaldo has on display along with his other artifacts of clothing. Another sign of social status was the mustache – the sign of the Ilustrados (Spanish for ‘erudite’ or ‘learned ones’), which is why heroes like José Rizal, Marcel H. del Pilar, and Graciano López Jaena all grew out their cookie duster. Yet upon looking at the Philippines’ first president, Emilio Aguinaldo’s face – his remains as bare as a baby’s.
The original blackboard used by Gen. Fabian Ver and the other generals who were loyal to President Marcos planned their attack during the People Power Revolution still stands, along with the sketch of the original plans to diffuse the growing crowds along EDSA. As we now know, the then Chief of the Armed Forces didn’t go through with the planned bombings and defected along with the army, to join the Yellow Revolution, instead.
The painting and sculpture that decorate Maharlika Hall are breathtaking, with pieces made of metal, bronze, and marble, mostly of Italian influence – Roman gods and goddesses or playful nymphs – all from the Marcos’ private collection. Gifts and trinkets from visiting dignitaries are also on display, like the little statue of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dressed as captain of a ship with her hands on the helm and what seems to be the spirit of Jesus Christ guiding her in the background. There are so many things wrong with that statue – she’s a tad too tall, for one.
Some of the more impressive collections come from the Marcoses, such as the library the former First Lay Imelda Marcos bought from the estate of Marie Louise of Austria, a.k.a. Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia von Habsburg-Lothringen – the second wife of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French and later Duchess of Parma.
The Old Vice President’s Office
Lastly, there is the Old Vice President’s Office. As the second highest government official, the Vice President was usually reserved the room directly opposite the President’s for his use, until the abolition of the Office of the Vice President with the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution. This room as been transformed into a small gallery commemorating the vice presidents of the Philippines, six of whom ascended to the presidency later in their political careers.
The heavily gilded furniture set in the room was used by President Marcos in the Presidential Study during the latter part of his administration.
If you have plans of mucking around the Philippines and taking in the history and culture, Malacañan Palace is a good place to start. Curious travelers looking to experience the Malacañan Palace Tour should plan it out at least two weeks in advance. Accomplish a reservation form at least seven working days before your visit, for the Palace to do the necessary background checks. For foreign nationals, photocopies of your passports’ main pages must be attached to the reservation form. Approval or denial of a request for a tour can be confirmed a day before the date of visit – those who are not included on the guest list will not be permitted to enter the Palace grounds. Please adhere to a smart casual dress code and note that only one camera will be allowed per tour group. The Presidential Museum and Library is located at Kalayaan Hall, Malacañan Palace, J.P. Laural St., San Miguel, Manila. For inquiries and reservations, please call +63 2 784 4286 loc. 4649 or 4945.