Calls for rebuilding Central Post Office ring out after fire
MANILA, Philippines — Around 77 years since it was rebuilt after being damaged in the Battle of Manila during World War II, the historic Manila Central Post Office was ravaged by a large devastating fire before Sunday midnight, with dozens of responding firefighters battling the blaze for nearly eight hours before finally bringing it under control.
“It was totally burned. It’s saddening because this is a national historical landmark,” Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-National Capital Region director Chief Supt. Nahum Tarroza said in an interview over dzBB radio on Monday.
Lawmakers immediately called for the restoration of the nearly century-old “architectural jewel” and suggested possible sources of funding for the endeavor with the Manila City government saying it would initiate reconstruction efforts in coordination with the Philippine Postal Corp. (PPC).
“The City of Manila, through the City Mayor, is in talks with the Philippine Post Office through its Postmaster General… Luis Carlos for any assistance the city may provide to the national heritage site,” Mayor Honey Lacuna said in a statement.
The post office was the headquarters of PPC and served as the main mail sorting and distribution hub.
Carlos said that among the items lost in the fire were letters and parcels bound for Manila, including national ID cards and court documents.
Since the blaze destroyed the building from the basement up to the fifth floor, Carlos said that mailing operations would be temporarily moved to a sorting and distribution center in Delpan, also in Manila.
“It’s saddening. We have been housed here for the last how many years, how many decades already. I’ve been here for the last 23 years. It is something we hope we can restore,” he added.
The BFP estimated the initial cost of damage at P300 million. An investigation was under way to determine the cause of the blaze that started in the basement of the five-story building past 11 p.m. on Sunday and continued until the following day.
It then reached general alarm—the highest fire alert—at 5:54 a.m. on Monday before it was declared under control past 7 a.m., according to a BFP report. More than 80 fire trucks were sent to put out the fire and at least seven responding firefighters sustained minor injuries.
Tarroza said the flames spread quickly to the top floors because the internal structure of the basement was made of wood. Letters, stamps and other light materials could have also contributed to the spread of the fire.
Firefighters initially faced the challenge of finding enough water to extinguish the blaze as each floor of the five-story building covered a huge area of 1,400 square meters, he added.
The 97-year-old neoclassical building at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila was designed by Ralph Doane, Tomas Mapua and Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano and completed in 1926.
On Nov. 24, 2018, it was declared by the National Museum as an “important cultural property.”
But more than a post office, the building is an architectural emblem, “fixed in the history of Philippine communication,” said heritage consultant Stephen Pamorada.
If concerned agencies begin its restoration, “they must maintain the spirit of the place,” he stressed.
For Diego Gabriel Torres, president of Renacimiento Manila, an organization working toward Manila’s cultural rebirth, “there should be a balance in rebuilding its function as a post office and a cultural institution as a museum with respect to history.”
“You can only understand the layout of the building when you tell the history regarding which were the sorting areas, the lockboxes, the telegraph, and long-distance phones,” he said.
Need to rebuild fast
“The government should rebuild the National Post Office Building. Fast, and not in slow mail fashion. So when they come knocking on the doors of Malacañang for help, the postmen must not ring twice,” House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said.
He pointed to possible sources of funding such as the P13-billion contingent fund under President Marcos’ control, and the P13-billion calamity fund under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Recto cited Republic Act No. 10066 or the 2009 National Cultural Heritage Act, which stated that national historical landmarks, sites or monuments were entitled to “priority government funding for protection, conservation and restoration.”
He also suggested asking taipans for help, saying their donations under Section 35 of RA 10066 “shall be exempt from the donor’s tax and the same shall be considered as allowable deduction from the gross income in the computation of the income tax of the donor.”
For Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., the fire that destroyed the iconic building was a “national tragedy” and the government should fund its repair, rehabilitation and restoration “so that it can continue to serve as a beautiful monument to our nation’s history.”
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, ordered the Senate finance committee to work closely with the Department of Budget and Management and other state agencies to fund the restoration of the building.
“Zubiri messaged (me) that we have to work with the budget department (in) finding funds to help restore the Post Office (building),” Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, the committee chair, said on Twitter. “(I) agree (that) it’s a national treasure.”
Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate culture and the arts committee, also expressed sadness over the fire as she called on authorities to thoroughly investigate it and to protect other heritage structures.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
By the numbers
1926–The Manila Central Post Office building was completed. The neoclassical building located at Liwasang Bonifacio was designed by Ralph Doane, Tomas Mapua and Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano.
1946– Manila post office was rebuilt after World War II.
Nov. 24, 2018–The National Museum declared the central post office building as an “important cultural property.”
5,384,061,877 – The Philippine Postal Corp.’s revenue from its Corporate Operating Budget (COB) for calendar year 2022.
3,514,019,782 – The Philippine Postal Corp.’s operating expenses from its COB for calendar year 2022.
13,800 – An estimated number of employees currently working for the Philippine Postal Corp.