MANILA — A massive fire that gutted the historic Manila Central Post Office in Lawton, Manila has been put out by firefighters Tuesday, some 30 hours after it started.
Senior Inspector Alejandro Ramos, Bureau of Fire Protection-Manila chief of investigation and intelligence section, said the biggest challenge for firefighters was the heat trapped in the building's basement.
"'Yung sa basement natin hindi maganda ang ventilation. The difficulties doon is the heat in the basement was confined so the basement was very hot, nahirapan kami pasukin. Walang problema dun sa usok, yun lang talaga," he said in an ANC interview.
(The basement lacked good ventilation. The heat was confined, so the basement was very hot, and we had trouble entering it. The smoke wasn't a problem.)
The BFP is still investigating what started the fire before midnight on Sunday.
Eleven individuals suffered minor injuries due to the inferno that left around P300 million in damage.
The Philippine Postal Corporation (PHLPost) uses a portion of the Manila Central Post Office's basement as its Mega Manila area office, which doubles as a storage area for documents and unused equipment.
The whole building burned down from the basement all the way to the fifth floor, Postmaster General Luis Carlos said.
Letters, parcels and the postal agency's entire stamp collection were likely destroyed, he said.
Some national IDs for delivery in the capital were also affected by the fire, the Philippine Statistics Authority said.
The Manila Central Post Office’s insurance with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) can cover up to P600 million in damage, the insurer’s president said on Tuesday.
The Post Office’s insurance covers P400 million for structural damage and another P200 million for items inside the building that was ravaged by the fire, GSIS President and General Manager Jose Arnulfo “Wick” Veloso said.
The GSIS, however, has yet to determine the total amount the Post Office can claim pending assessments, he told ABS-CBN News.
“They are putting up a drone to be able to assess the damage from that vantage point,” the official said. “Kapag nakabigay ng report ang adjuster, it is expected to be within 24 to 48 hour time period, [then] it will take 2 weeks to be able to assess.”
“We’d like them to rush it because the moment they are able to provide assessment, we will immediately release to the Philippine Postal Corporation the amount due them,” he added.
The GSIS is also ready to lend some of its foreclosed properties so that the PHLPost can immediately resume its services and operations, Veloso said.
“Mayroon kaming foreclosed property warehouses sa Pasig that the Philippine Postal Corporation can immediately use para hindi maantala ang serbisyo sa taong bayan,” he said.
“Plug and play na lang ito. Maaari nilang ituloy ang serbisyo,” he added.
(We have foreclosed property warehouses in Pasig that the Philippine Postal Corporation can immediately use so that its services would not be interrupted. This is plug and play. They can immediately resume their service.)
The PhilPost can also ask the GSIS for a loan, its chief said.
“Ang GSIS ay handang magpautang ng pera sa Philippine Postal Corporation para ma-refurbish, maipagawa kaagad yung kanilang building sapagkat ito ay napakaimportantang historical perspective itong building,” Veloso said.
“Kami ay handang makipag-coordinate sa PhilPost, National Historical Commission, City of Manila at ano pang ahensya para tulong-tulong po tayo na maibalik agad sa original form ang ating Post Office building,” he said.
(The GSIS is ready to lend money for the Philippine Postal Corporation to refurbish its building because this is very important from a historical perspective. We are ready to cooperate with the coordinate sa PhilPost, National Historical Commission, City of Manila, and other agencies so we can help bring back our Post Office building to its original form.)
Meantime, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) said it was collaborating with local and national agencies to help the PHLPost rehabilitate the damaged neo-classical landmark that overlooks the Pasig River.
“The renowned structure has been part of the life of not only Manileños, but of many Filipinos from different parts of the archipelago,” NHCP chairman Emmanuel Franco Calairo said in a statement.
“For the time being, we will give way to the PHLPost in conducting retrieval operations and addressing the basic needs of their people,” he said.
Originally built in 1926, the post office was once considered the "grandest building" in Manila, according to its website.
It was destroyed in World War II as US forces recaptured the capital from Japanese occupation forces, and rebuilt in 1946.
The Philippine National Museum declared the building an "important cultural property" in 2018.
— With reports from Katrina Domingo and Karen De Guzman, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse