Back in the glory days of pre-internet Post Office 2
Alvin Fidelson (standing) with former PHLPost Journal editor-in-chief Tito Acosta, 1995. Cassette tape and greeting card photos from Unsplash.

The glory days of the Post Office when lovers sent letters and voice tapes by mail

Alvin Fidelson worked decades in the recently gutted structure, and remembers when he’d send voice tapes abroad and mountains of mail were a normal sighting
RHIA GRANA | Jun 01 2023

Alvin Fidelson was fresh out of college when he was hired at the country’s primary postal service provider 32 years ago. Back then, PHLPost was known as Postal Service Office (PSO), an attached agency of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Fidelson was a journalism graduate from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). But his first job at PHLPost in 1991 was not related to journalism. He worked as postal police whose job was essentially to guard the mails. He was deployed at the Airmail Distribution Center (ADC)—now Central Mail Exchange Center—in Pasay City, which up to now remains the central hub for incoming and outgoing mails.

Alvin Fidelson of PHLPost
Fidelson (wearing eyeglasses) with other Airmail Distribution Center (now CMEC) employees, circa 1993

“At that time, there were no private security guards yet at ADC,” Fidelson recalls to ANCX. Since they were getting tons of mail and parcels then, the role of a postal police was extremely important to prevent pilferage.

Fidelson’s aunt, Rose Falcuto who worked at the PSO, recommended him for the position, and the young journalism graduate welcomed the opportunity. “Though the pay was not that big—I was receiving P90.91 a day at that time—it really meant a lot to me and my family,” he says. 

Fidelson is the youngest among four siblings. His father, Arnulfo, worked as a maintenance guy in PUP, which allowed him to finish college thru a partial scholarship.

The newbie postal police was tasked to report directly to ADC’s Chief of Postal Police, a Mr. Romy Sardan, who happened to be Fidelson’s godfather and neighbor in Habay II, Bacoor, Cavite. Since Fidelson and Sardan were neighbors, they would head off to work together every morning. Sardan would also become the young man’s mentor, teaching him the ropes of the job, which included security and investigation.

MCPO employees with then-Postmaster General Roilo Golez, circa 2001.
PHLPost employees with then-Postmaster General Roilo Golez, circa 2001.

The boss at ADC then, Rey Martinez, later decided to create an internal newsletter called ADC Balita, and because of his journalism background, Fidelson was tapped to be its managing editor. The newsletter reached the bosses at PSO. Recognizing the new employee’s skill sets, Fidelson was offered a new position at the main office—information officer and associate editor of the agency’s nationwide publication called Postal Journal.

The post office building—that massive, stately structure that we’ve come to know—has remained the same over the years. “The design never changed,” Fidelson says. “Nagkaroon lang ng mga divisions at some point, pero essentially it stayed the same.” His work area has always been located at the third floor.

Part of his job was covering the post office’s various activities, which included seminars and stamp launches. Since the agency had no external communications officer, the young communications exec was also assigned to write press releases and coordinate with media. In 1996, after passing the Civil Service exam, he was promoted to a regular position as Information Officer 3.

Alvin Fidelson
Manning the stamp selling booth at the Cebu Art Fair in 2021. Photo from PHLPost's Facebook page

Cassette tapes and love letters

In the mid-90s, in pre-internet Philippines, snail mail still ruled. “Madaming nagpapadala ng love letters noon,” Fidelson recalls smiling. “Madaming nagpapadala ng cassette tapes lalo na yung mga tamad magsulat. They would record their voice on a cassette tape and mail it to their loved ones.”

He was admittedly one of those lovesick patrons of the postal office during that time. “Meron ako noong girlfriend sa abroad. Pinapadalhan ko siya ng voice tapes every day after work,” Fidelson recalls, smiling. “Pag sinipag ako, gumagawa ako ng sulat. Nagpapadala din ako ng greeting cards. Nasa post office na ako e, so doon ko na mine-mail.”

During special occasions like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the mail carriers deliver tons of greeting cards and love letters. “Halos hindi mo na matanaw ang mga tao sa tambak ng sulat at parcels,” says Fidelson, who loved hanging out at the mail operations area.

Alvin Fidelson of PHLPost
Fidelson’s 32 years at PHLPost, he says, were fruitful “because I’ve had the opportunity to hone my skills in communication, media relations and PR.”

“Nag-e-enjoy ako kasi maraming sulat,” he says. “Yung mga kartero marami silang kuwento about sa pagde-deliver nila, na minsan daw hinahabol sila ng aso. Their leather satchel bags were always filled with mails.” PHLPost had thousands of mail carriers at that time, and Fidelson was able to feature some of them in the newsletter’s “Mamang Kartero” section.  

He would also meet the senior citizens getting their pension checks. “Wala pang ATM at that time. Money order check pa lang noon. Yung tseke kinukuha nila sa postal office at pinapapalitan sa bangko. Ang postal ID noon paper-based pa, hindi pa plastic laminated,” Fidelson offers.

Fidelson with wife Tess
Fidelson and Mirabel worked closely on PHLPost’s newsletter and some PR tasks. “That’s where we fell in love,” Fidelson says.

In the mid 90s to early 2000s, PHLPost had about 21,000 employees, says Fidelson. The post office had different sections—registry, money order, stamp, letter carrier, among others. In every section, there was a sorting area where the mails were organized, placed in sacks, and dispatched either to ADC, for international mails that need to be transported by air, or to the Foreign Service Mail Exchange Center, for domestic mails that need to be transported by sea.

Every weekend, active stamp collectors would hold stamp auctions. “Nakaabang sila parati pag may bagong stamps,” he says. He loved covering and writing about all the various events inside and outside the post office. He also became friends with many journalists through the years. “Dahil doon, na-enjoy ko ang work ko sa PHLPost. Kaya hindi ko na din naisip na mag-apply pa sa iba,” he says.


Changing times

Amid advancements in technology, PHLPost has continued to serve its clientele. There are a lot less letters sent nowadays, yes, but Fidelson says the postal corporation remains relevant in the lives of Filipinos because it’s part of history.

About two years ago, PHLPost started holding postal heritage tours on Saturdays, to acquaint people, especially the young, on the history of postal service in the Philippines.  

As for Fidelson, part of what made his 32-year stay at PHLPost truly special and meaningful was that it was where he met Marites Mirabel, who would become his future wife. Tess, who worked as a college professor in Albay, was employed by the corporation as the PHLPost Journal's editor in 1995. Fidelson and Mirabel worked closely on PHLPost’s newsletter and some PR tasks. “That’s where we fell in love,” Fidelson says, smiling. They were married May 10, 1997. Mrs. Fidelson later resigned from PHLPost and went back to the teaching profession while her husband stayed on.

The recent fire that gutted the post office saddened everyone at PHLPost. “It broke my heart considering that I have been with the Postal Service for 32 years,” says Fidelson who is now Information Officer III and Acting Chief at the PHLPost Corporate Communications Office.

PHLPost's Corporate Communications Department
It's business as usual for PHLPost's Corporate Communications Department, who currently works inside a makeshift tent at the MCPO compound. Photo courtesy of Bingle Picache-Chuidian 

But despite what happened, he would like to assure the public that it’s “business as usual” at PHLPost since it has branches all over the country. Currently, he and his officemates are working inside a makeshift tent inside the Manila Central Post Office (MCPO) compound near the gutted building. They will soon be moving to PHLPost’s old annex building which was renovated to accommodate some corporate employees. The MCPO operations, on the other hand, are now at the Surface Mail Exchange Department in Delpan, Manila.

Meetings with the Government Service Insurance System, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Historical Commission of the Philippines with regards the restoration of the almost century-old heritage building are ongoing.  

Fidelson’s 32 years at PHLPost, he says, were fruitful “because I’ve had the opportunity to hone my skills in communication, media relations and PR.” The past three decades taught him to “be responsive to the public’s needs and be determined to uphold public service even in the most challenging situations.”

These are trying times for the people at PHLPost. It will take time to pick up the pieces. “But we have to give hope to our employees,” he says, “that we will rise from the ashes and we’ll become resilient and strong in the face of adversity.”

Photos courtesy of Alvin Fidelson