That landmark etched at the back of your 20-peso bill is no other than the Malacañang Palace or the presidential palace, the seat of the government and the official home of the Philippine president. Originally the summer house of the Spanish governor general, the Malacañang (Spanish for “there’s a nobleman”) is a 150-year-old, 18th century complex built in neocolonial style, resembling the White House of America. If you want to trace the history of the leadership that shaped the Filipinos, this place could be a good start.
White House of the Philippines
In spite the palace’s grandeur by the banks of Pasig River, history has not always been kind to Malacañang. It went through the hands of American generals William Howard Taft and Francis Harrison during the Spanish-American War. As the residence of the country’s longest-serving leaders, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the palace became an icon of hatred as it was where Ferdinand declared martial law and where Imelda hid her infamous 3,000 pairs of shoes. Legend has it that Ferdinand looted Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita’s golden Buddha and melted it to be made as his presidential toilet bowl.
Although the palace today continues to become a magnet for protests along Mendiola Street, it continues to be an icon, well-visited by locals and tourists alike for its grand ballrooms, historic collections, and opulent rooms that every now and then have become the place for entertaining dignitaries like former US President George W. Bush.
Today, the complex is divided into the main palace, the Bonifacio Hall (the former offices of former presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada), Kalayaan Hall (the former American-period executive building), Mabini Hall (administrative building), the New Executive Building (built by President Aquino), the grand staircase, and the Presidential Study, similar to that of US’ Oval Office at the White House. Across the river is the Malacañang Park, with its own garden, golf course, a recreation hall, and an American-era guesthouse.
Inside Kalayaan Hall is Malacañang Museum, the heart of the complex. Built in 1920, it features exhibits and galleries showcasing the legacies of the country’s presidents. The museum’s collections are chronologically arranged, from the Spanish era (1750s-1898), to the first Philippine Republic (1860s-1901), American era (1898–1935), Commonwealth of the Philippines (1935–1946), Republic of the Philippines (1946-the present), EDSA People Power Revolution (February 1986), and several rooms used by former presidents and cabinet members.
Among the presidents’ personal collections on display are religious images, campaign posters, gifts of foreign VIPs, photographs, President Ramon Magsaysay’s riding boots, President Carlos P. Garcia’s chess set, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s necklaces, people power paraphernalia of Corazon Aquino, and mementos from Fidel V. Ramos.
Rules, fees and opening hours
The palace complex is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Entrance fees range from P200 to P500 depending on the sights you will be allowed to access. Be wary of strict security measures. You will also be accompanied by a guide or a presidential security guard in touring the palace. Visitors are only allowed in the main halls and in the reception areas. There are many restricted areas like the president’s quarters and the room being used for cabinet meetings.
If you want to visit the museum (open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), write or fax a letter of appointment stating your nationality, the names of people coming with you in the tour and their nationalities, the passport details of everyone who will join the tour, the desired time and date of the tour, and your contact details. Letters should be sent at least seven days in advance to: The Director, Malacañang Museum, Kalayaan Hall, Malacañang, Manila. Tel. Nos. 63-2 7844286 loc. 4662, 4671 or (02) 736-4662. Fax: 63-2 7844286 loc. 4722. Website: http://www.op.gov.ph/museum/default.asp.
Once your letter has been received, the museum’s visitor and tours coordinator will process your permit and will contact you to confirm your visit. You will be asked to pay an entrance fee of P50 if you are an adult, or P30 if you are a student or a senior citizen. The fee already includes a tour guide.
Photography is allowed only within the museum. Video footage can be taken through securing a permit prior to the visit. The permit should be secured from the presidential security group.
How to get there
The palace is at JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila. The best way to get there is through a taxi from anywhere in Manila. If you are coming in through a private vehicle or a taxi, you should enter the complex either through the entries at Arlegui Street or J.P. Laurel Street. You may park your car at the car park in Mendiola Street, then take a short stroll along J.P. Laurel Street until you reach the Kalayaan Gate.
When arriving on foot, you should take the entrance at either at San Rafael Street or General Solano Street. You can also see the palace’s façade when you ride the Pasig River Ferry Service from Intramuros.