Museo ng Malacanan: Where the Great Ones Gather
Anson Yu explores a museum that chronicles the growth of the country’s government.
It is said that long before Malacanan Palace* was built, the site where it stood was a place where powerful spirits resided. It was because of the presence of these spirits, that the local folks referred to the area as "May lakan diyan" or "There are great ones there." Considering the many historical figures that have lived or worked inside the palace, you can say that the name is very appropriate.
Now, you don't need to be voted into to office or wait for an official invite to visit the palace. You can learn more about the palace and its place in Philippine history when you book a tour at the Museo ng Malacanan. It is the only part of the presidential palace complex that is open to the public, provided you are willing to wait a week to have your name undergo a security check.
The two-story museum is housed in what was known as the Executive Building. It was built in 1920 and served as office space for the American governor-generals and subsequently, for the various presidents of the Philippines. Compared to other museums, this one may seems small, but it has quite a lot of offer. The décor alone is magnificent. The rooms on the ground floor are paneled in hardwood and sumptuously carved by one of the country's best sculptors, Isabelo Tampinco.
The rooms on the first floor are devoted to the Spanish and American colonial era. Photos, prints, paintings and artifacts are used to illustrate the period in our country's history when it was ruled by foreign powers and our struggle for independence. Among the interesting artifacts you can view here is the thimble that was used by Dona Marcela Agoncillo to sew the first Philippine flag.
The exhibit on the second floor focuses on our transition from a colony to that of an independent nation. This started when we voted Manuel L. Quezon as our first president while still under American rule during the Commonwealth period in the 1930s. He held office at the Executive Office and the room has been beautifully preserved. It is reputed to be the first air-conditioned office in the country, though it was said that President Quezon was never fond of the cold temperature. An elaborate desk by carved by Vidal Tampico dominates this room. Behind it is a chair that was not only used by President Quezon, but also by Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Fidel V. Ramos. In fact it was on that chair that President Marcos sat when he made the announcement on TV that he was declaring martial law.
One of the highlights on the second floor is the Gallery of Presidents. Truly this is a gathering of the "great ones," as it honors the fifteen men and women who have served as heads of state for this country. Of course, you may question the deeds of some these "great ones," but it is still a fascinating exhibit as it shows how our country's history has progressed since we started having a president as our leader. The gallery not shows only each president's political achievements, but also their humanity. The museum does so by displaying personal effects such as clothing alongside election campaign material and documents.
It is also in this museum that the gifts that the Philippine presidents have received from various heads of states and private individuals are displayed. In the Roxas Cabinet Room, you can find a beautiful painting by Spanish Impressionist painter Joaquin Sorolia entitled "Las Neridas". It was donated to the palace during the time of President Elpidio Quirino by American philanthropist Alma de Bretteville Spreckles.
Another nice thing about this museum is that it also serves as one of the palace's press conference centers. Who knows? You just catch a glimpse of the current Philippine president on your visit here!
Basta Pinas, Makulay ang Kasaysayan!
The museum is open from Monday to Friday, by appointment only. Entrance fee is P50, students P30. Kalayaan Hall, Malacanang Palace, Manila. 7364662 or www.op.gov.ph/museum.
*Please note the spelling, if we are referring to the palace itself it is Malacanan without the "g". However if we are referring to the compound where the palace is located it is then known as Malacanang.
Anson Yu is a freelance writer and a home-grown Binondo boy. He gives walking tours of Binondo and other parts of Manila under Ivan Man Dy's Old Manila Walks.
Go to list of Manila resorts and hotels