A day at the post office

Published December 2, 2022, 12:02 AM

by Joseph Bautista


I saw the Philippine Post Office almost every day during my university years. It was in front of the Post Office, in Liwasang Bonifacio, where I waited for the bus going to Cavite. It was the 80’s and the Post Office was a beehive of activities. From outside, I could see people lining up sending mails, picking up their parcels out checking their P.O. boxes. The Post Office represented power and authority, and I felt that it wasn’t ready to welcome a curious young man to roam around its imposing structure.

Fast forward 40 years later, I have grown old and so did the Post Office. In the age of digital communication, the Post Office has retired as I did, or so I thought.

I finally got a chance to visit the Post Office a couple of weeks ago, 40 years after I dreamed of going inside its building. I learned that they are now conducting regular monthly tours for free and so I signed up immediately. The tours are conducted on Saturdays when the office is less busy.

I arrived early for the 9 a.m. tour schedule so that I can already go around and look at the architectural details of the building. It was designed by Juan M. Arellano, the same person who designed the Legislative Building and the Metropolitan Theatre. As I was walking around the lobby a lady asked if I was there for the tour. I nodded. She introduced herself as Miss Abigail Tarroza and said that she’s going to conduct the tour.

When the participants were all finally settled at the left wing of the building, Miss Tarroza started with her presentation. She explained that the first postal office was established in Manila in 1767, and in 1838, Manila became the central processing center for all mails in country.

By 1850, Manila became the leading postal center in Asia. In 1854, the first stamp in the Philippines was issued by the Spanish colonial government which has the image of Queen Isabela II, the reigning monarch at that time.
The first post office was originally located in Escolta. Its present location at the northern end of Plaza Lawton was part of the Burnham Plan of Manila for easy water transportation of mails using the Pasig River. It was designed by Juan M. Arellano and Tomas Mapua in 1925 in neoclassical style. Construction of the building started in 1926, faced many delays, and it was finally completed in 1930. It was inaugurated in 1931. During World War II, it was severely damaged during the Battle of Manila. In 1947, with the support of the US government, it was rebuilt to its original design.

After the brief presentation, we were taken on a tour of the building. There are 16 ionic pillars lining up the steps just before entering the lobby. On top of the rectangular volume are 31 lion heads that are actually concealed down spouts to redirect rain waters. It has 13 massive entry doors with windows on top for natural ventilation (the Post Office needs no airconditioning). Mail counters are made of solid marble.

We were led to the back of the building designated as Manila Post Office. We were surprised to see old style pigeon boxes for sorting mails. Miss Tarroza explained that each specific area has its own designated post man. “Your post man is assigned to your area for life. He knows by heart the people living in his territory and their corresponding addresses,” explained Miss Tarroza.

The pigeon boxes are being used by the post man to sort the mail according to house numbers so that deliveries can be done accordingly. No going back during deliveries, she added.
On the last part of the tour, we met Miss Josefina Cura of the Philatetic Federation of the Philippines. Philately is the study and collection of postage stamps. Miss Cura explained that collecting stamps is educational because through stamps we can learn about nations and their history, their culture, their geography, and their current events. Each stamp has a story to tell. When a mail with a post stamp is sent to another place, the little stamp tells the receiver about the country where it came from, about its people and about its history.

We learned at the end of the tour that the Post Office continues to evolve in this digital age. The role of the Post Office is to facilitate communication in whatever form it may take, and it is now as busy giving mail services as it was before.

We may have forgotten the joy of sending and receiving mail and I bet we can rekindle the joy if we start writing letters again by hand, send it by post and make another person happy reading something delivered by his friendly post man and not by e-mail. And getting a stamp that tells a story of the place where it came from is a bonus.

(The author is a senior who recently retired. His taste for adventure has not kept him from travelling, usually via not-so-usual routes.)