Manila Central Post Office fire leaves 11 injured, P300M damage

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2023 09:57 PM | Updated as of May 23 2023 11:53 AM

People view the Manila Central Post Office from across the Pasig River as firefighters battle the blaze that started midnight and continued until late in the morning on May 22, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
People view the Manila Central Post Office from across the Pasig River as firefighters battle the blaze that started midnight and continued until late in the morning on May 22, 2023. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Fire engulfed the historic Manila Central Post Office in Liwasang Bonifacio, after a blaze that started at the basement’s general services office Sunday night quickly spread to the upper floors.

This prompted the Bureau of Fire Protection to raise the general alarm or the highest fire alarm at 5:54 Monday morning, six hours since it was reported to the agency.

Over 80 firetrucks in Metro Manila responded.

“Mga materials na ginamit dIto, mga kahoy. Mga papel, mga parcels na talagang easily combustible, kaya talagang tupok na tupok tayo. (05:32) Talagang mainit siya, kaya mabilis pag dry-up ng materials kahit magbomba tayo ng tubig,” BFP Manila’s Sr. Supt. Christina Cula told the media. 

Some employees and nearby residents were saddened and are in disbelief.

“Na-shock ako. Umidlip muna ako, baka panaginip lang...Ang dami pa namin problema ngayon kasi kami ang may hawak ng file ng plan sa offices. Yung mga back up naming hard drive andiyan din. Kasama sa mga nasunog… Yung iba naman may napasa sa email,” Engr. Roger Capatan Jr. who works at Manila Central Post Office said.

“Parang nakakaiyak...Nakakapanghinayang talaga,” Evangeline Dequiña, who often passes by the building added.

The fire was contained and declared under control at 7:22 a.m.

As the black fumes subsided, the aftermath became more visible: parts of the building’s ceiling collapsed, the offices inside hardly recognizable, and the iconic facade was covered with ash.

Seventeen hours since fire razed the Manila Central Post Office, the BFP has yet to declare fire out, saying little pockets of fire need to be completely extinguished first.

Investigation is still underway on the cause of the fire.

The BFP recorded 11 individuals who suffered minor injuries, including laceration, sprain, first-degree burn, and difficulty breathing. Nine of them are firemen, one volunteer, and one civilian.

Damage from the fire is estimated to reach around P300 million.

Postmaster General Luis Carlos said among those destroyed are parcels and PHIL-IDs for some Manila City residents, corporate documents, stamps, and paintings.

"The museum has a few stamps that a lot of collectors have been looking at. The structure of the building. Since it is a heritage site… ‘yan ang importante sa lahat,” he said.

The Philippine Statistics Authority is working with the PhilPost to determine the number of PHIL-IDs affected by the fire. It assured the public these will be replaced at no additional cost.

PHLPost added the Central Mail Exchange Center has records of these and some parcels.

The building, meanwhile, is insured with the GSIS, according to Carlos, and funds from it may be used for repair or restoration.

"The structural integrity will have to be checked by a licensed structural engineer. We will have to study it first. If the integrity is OK, I think we can restore it. But if the structural engineer says that it can be retrofitted, we retrofit. If not, we’ll have to sit down with my board, and with this administration and see. But definitely that building will stay. That façade will stay,” he said.

The Manila City government also allayed fears that a different project may rise on the Manila Central Post Office’s location.

"'Wag ho kayong mag-alala, ang lugar kung saan nakatayo ang Manila Central Post Office ayon sa aming zoning ordinance ay isang institutional zone. Maliban doon, ang Manila Central Post Office ay nadeklara noong 2018 ng National Museum bilang isang important cultural property. Ibig sabihin, ang National Historical Institute ay idineklara ang buong lugar bilang isang heritage zone. Kapag ganito, hindi na maaaaring patayuan ng kahit anumang gusali maliban sa naturing na post office doon sa lugar na ito, Manila City Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan said.

The city government also expressed willingness to extend assistance in restoring the building, if needed.

In the meantime, PHLPost is preparing temporary offices to continue the services of the Manila Central Post Office. Carlos said the Manila Post Office Team will temporarily use the foreign surface mail distribution center in Delpan, while the business mails group will temporarily be housed at the Central Mail Exchange Center in Pasay City.