But for an earthquake... Malacanang!

by Tomas Gomez III

Posted at Jul 10 2014 01:59 AM | Updated as of Jul 10 2014 10:13 AM

It all began with an earthquake that demolished much of Intramuros Manila in June of 1863. Without such cataclysm, the Palacio del Gobernador situated on the left side of the Manila Cathedral both fronting the Plaza de Roma would have remained intact waiting for the next set of colonials to take over the seat and symbol of government, which in fact happened in 1898 when the Gringos took over.

American Governors-General, both military and civil, would have resided and worked in Intramuros, instead of in Malacanang. And come the Commonwealth era, this is where Manuel L. Quezon would have ascended the stairs to Filipino political power as a prelude to a promised recognition of our independence. Had this come to pass, without 1863’s cataclysm that is, another destruction of Intramuros, this time during the Liberation of Manila, would have obliterated, just the same, the Philippine Commonwealth’s symbolic home, its pride and honor of acquired occupancy, like every standing structure within the old walled city.

Without the earthquake of 1863 but with the onslaught of the totally devastating liberation of Manila, where would President Sergio Osmena have held office and resided in 1945? Where would Manuel Roxas and the succeeding Presidents of the Republic have rebuilt the seat of governance? Most probably, eventually, somewhere in Quezon City, since it was, by Republic Act No. 333 (July 1948), the Capital City--the permanent seat of the National Government, while all the time, the incumbent President remained a resident of and with his official workplace in Manila, not in the Capital of the Republic.

By Martial Law Presidential Decree in June of 1976, the Capital City returned to Manila.

“Would have,” really, but for the earthquake of 1863! Nature’s cataclysmic rhythm made Malacanang the seat of national governance, immediately after. Evidently, the only piece of real estate available and acceptable as a substitute refuge to replace the wreckage of the old Palacio was the Governor’s summer house by the river Pasig. It stayed on as a permanent substitute for the wrecked Palacio del Gobernador.

Originally erected for the elite merchant family of Don Luis Rocha in the late 1750s, it had changed hands once before it was acquired by the Spanish government in 1825 for purposes of a summer house. Obviously, an element of executive perquisite. Caprice, maybe. Even during the Rocha days, the place, not the house, had already acquired the name “malacanang” with various interpretations of the term’s provenance.

Malacanang is less a seat of power than it is a coveted symbol of political supremacy whose umbilical cord has really never been cut off from its colonial past, victorious nationalism Philippine-style notwithstanding. This is the spot from where the despots of the Spanish Crown and of American imperialism lorded over reluctant vassals.

Malacanang was the trophy of a long struggle for independence by Filipinos. Thus, Malacanang truly is more of symbolism and sentimentalism than the substance of governance. The antecedents and circumstances that hover over its continued existence as the seat of national government, belong to a curious past. It ought to remain in the past. To be revered, of course, but not to be suffered.

It is time that the totality of the renovations, expanded vicinity, added structures, the entire labyrinthine complex and all the urban aggravations it causes in the neighborhood be consigned to history. A living history in the form of a people’s museum, perhaps!

The official residence and workplace of the President of the Republic of the Philippines is by law in Manila, center of what is known as the National Capital Region, also the official address of the National Penitentiary and the National Mental Institution. (Happily, the National Penitentiary is reportedly moving away!)

Malacanang’s location is in and around the convergence of Sampaloc, San Miguel and Quiapo districts along the river Pasig. This immediate vicinity is the epitome of ugliness, overcrowding, filth and every urban ill that assails the senses. Over the years, the neighborhood has grimly deteriorated with the unabated proliferation of slums and squatter colonies. Political correctness mandates referring to them as ‘informal settlers.’

Where the office and residence of the President is is an enclave bounded by a dirty, malodorous and unsanitary river, by two overstressed bridges and narrow streets girded by vehicular gridlock, by some ten schools and three churches--all within a stone’s throw from each other and from the very doorsteps of the President. All these, within one square mile! And like practically all of Manila, nobody really speaks of an open secret that is the stark absence of sewage treatment facilities beyond septic tanks!

Must the seat of our national government be so humiliatingly situated? No President in the developing world must be made to suffer being surrounded by such uncomplimentary proximities. As said earlier, it is time that Malacanang be consigned to history. Malacanang is indeed a museum piece. So, let it be. Let Malacanang host a people’s museum.
Quo vadis, Malacanang? I promise a fun solution. Next blog.

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