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Fascinating Facts and Secrets About Malacañang Palace

Malacañang’s regal halls, gleaming floors of wood, and reinforced walls belie a history of humble beginnings and constant changes.
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons
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The Malacañang we know today is very different from the one from its past. Back then, it wasn't considered a palace. Here are secrets and fascinating facts about Malacañang you may not have heard of.

It started as a small weekend house.

There was nothing palatial about Malacañang when it was built in 1750. In fact, before it became the seat of government, it was called a casita, which is Spanish for "small house." It belonged to the family of Luis Rocha, a Spaniard who participated in the Galleon Trade. According to the Presidential Museum and Library, the original structure was part of a row of vacation houses lining the edge of the Pasig River, where the wealthy and elite spent their weekends.

Malacañang River Facade in the 1890s

IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN/ MALACAÑANG.ORG

This was a time when the Pasig River was a favorite getaway. As a weekend rest house, the old structure of Malacañang had a bath house on the river, a nipa-roofed and bamboo-enclosed structure on the river where the Rochas would enjoy the crystal-clear gushing waters of the river.

Palace Riverfront in 1890

It was sold in 1802 for one thousand pesos.

A certain Colonel Jose Miguel Fomento bought the house from Luis Rocha in 1802 for only one thousand pesos. Upon Formento's death in 1825, his testamentary executors sold it to the government. 

Since then, it became known as Posesion de Malacañang and served as the temporary residence of outgoing governors general while waiting for the next ship to Spain.

It only became the official residence of the Governor-General in 1863.  

When the great earthquake of 1863 struck Manila, many structures in Intramuros were felled, including the Palacio del Gobernador. Because of this, the Governor-General had to move to Malacañang.

Finding the place too small and inadequate to serve as the seat of government, the Spanish government expanded it and built additional structures, such that in 1898, Malacañang became a sprawling complex of wooden buildings complete with capiz windows and azoteas.

Palace Facade in 1910

During the American occupation, the government decided to further renovate and modernize the complex. It also bought more land to expand the complex and even reclaimed parts of the Pasig River. The government also reinforced the structure against flooding and built the famous river façade we see on the current 20-peso bill.

Palace facade in the 1940s

IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN/ MALACAÑANG.ORG

Malacañang Palace is the only major government structure that survived World War II.

For some reason, the complex was miraculously spared from major bombing damage. Only the southwest side of the Palace where the State Dining Room was located was hit by shelling, while the rest of the palace was left intact.

Meanwhile, other major government structures around Manila were heavily damaged or reduced to ruins, including Manila City Hall, the Old Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts), the Agriculture and Finance Buildings (now the National Museum of Anthropology and the National Museum of Natural History), and the Manila Central Post Office.

By the end of World War II, Manila was the most devastated city in Asia, second in the world after Warsaw.

Old Manila after World War II, 1945

The Palace we know today is the result of very extensive renovations done in the 1970s.

What we have come to know as the palatial Malacañang is the result of major expansion in the ‘70s. During this period, the main Palace’s structure was expanded drastically, with its four facades moved forward. A new dining room was added, and a new building called Ceremonial Hall was built in place of the Spanish-era azoteas and pavilions.

The presidential quarters were also expanded, and a new presidential bedroom was constructed.

According to the Presidential Museum and Library, the old Palace was almost entirely gutted to give way to the needs of the presidential family. The expansion also addressed the deficiencies of patch-up renovations and repair jobs over the century.

Present-day river facade of Malacanang Palace

IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Palace is bomb-proof and bullet-proof on all exterior surfaces.

Hidden behind the palace's elegant hardwood floors, panels, and ceilings are poured concrete, reinforced concrete slabs, and steel girders and trusses. All its windows are made of reinforced material, ensuring that no sniper bullet or rocket can penetrate its walls or windows. 

While it may look unimposing yet elegant from the river façade, the Palace is one of the most secure places in the country. It is guarded 24/7 by the Presidential Security Group. No vessel can cross the river in front of Malacañang without clearance.

The entire Palace also has an independent power supply, ensuring that the President can perform his duties in cases of emergencies. 

Not all Philippine Presidents lived in the Palace.

While officially known as the official residence of the Philippine President, Malacañang Palace does not seem to be very popular as a home for recent presidents.

In the Fifth Republic, only President Ferdinand Marcos and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo chose to live in the Palace, according to the Presidential Museum and Library.

President Corazon Aquino decided to live in the Arlegui Guest House within the Palace complex to distance herself from the excesses of the lifestyle of her predecessor, which was symbolized by the Palace’s opulence.

President Fidel Ramos, in the same vein, followed the example of President Cory Aquino.

Meanwhile, President Joseph Estrada lived in the Premier Guest House located within the Malacañang Complex, which he remodeled to serve as his residence and primary office.

President Benigno Aquino III lived in Bahay Pangarap, a mansion securely placed across the river. It is a complex surrounded by thick greenery as added security and to ensure privacy. It also has a garden pool. Adjacent to this complex is the sprawling Malacañang Golf Course and the offices of the Presidential Security Group.

Incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte currently lives in Bahay Pangarap, which he renamed Bahay Pagbabago.

This story originally appeared in Town&Country

Minor edits were made by Esquire.ph editors. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos for Townandcountry.ph
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