A tour of the past as immortalized at Malacañan Palace
Touring the Old Executive Building of Malacañan Palace was a treat. Our appointment with the division managing collections at the Malacañan Museum and Library was meant to access a number of old documents and photos my colleagues and I were researching on for a project. We were delighted to be told we could be taken on a tour of the rooms and Past Presidents Exhibit in what is now known as the Kalayaan Hall.
As a child, I used to go to the palace for family gatherings. I remember Maharlika Hall, as it was known during my uncle the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos’s time, as the venue for intimate plays and musicals performed by my siblings and cousins on Christmas Eve. The central portion of the second floor of the old executive building used to house guest rooms but then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos converted guest rooms into what the Kalayaan Hall is today.
I also remember one time when the hall was filled with gigantic Botong Francisco paintings all lined up waiting to be presented. That was my childhood memory of the now called Kalayaan Hall. After People Power, then President Corazon C. Aquino renamed it Kalayaan Hall, which is now so much brighter and colder (because of the AC) than I remember.
Today, the main hall holds the Malacañan Museum’s “Relics of Power: Remembering the Philippine Presidents” exhibit (which is available on line). It’s an exhibit in the antiquarian/curiosity cabinet style, where the memorabilia and personal effects of former presidents, as well as their wives, are displayed. It was so genteel—so kagalang-galang.
Being in the midst of dignity through so many generations imbues one with a determination to respect the position of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. Regardless of one’s political views on and personal belief of the person who sits in the position, one has to remember this is the highest position one can ever hold in the country. How can one not feel this way with dark wooden cabinets towering like sentinels, keeping guard of the love and sacrifices of past presidents and their families? This love and these sacrifices are enshrined in the relics the cabinets contain, which serve as reminders of the proud and resilient past of all Filipinos as represented by the President of the Republic.
We started our tour in the Old Waiting Rooms of the Old Executive Building. Here you find memorabilia of the current President BBM and campaign materials used by past presidents. One can’t help noticing the beautiful wood carvings of ceiling borders by noted sculptors Isabelo Tampinco and Graciano Napumoceno. You will see American colonial influences with the carved eagle as its main feature. This eagle soon gave way to the Republic of the Philippine Seal.
The Old Executive Building at the Malacañan Palace was built from 1920 to 1921. Although it was started by Governor General Francis Burton Harrison, it was his successor Leonard Wood who was able to make use of it.
After the Old Waiting Room, we were taken to the Old Executive Secretary’s Office, the Quezon Executive office, the Quirino Council of State Room, the Roxas Cabinet Room, then the Main Hall or the Northeast and Southeast Galleries. They are all very grand.
The Old Executive Building at the Malacañan Palace was built from 1920 to 1921. Although it was started by Governor General Francis Burton Harrison, it was his successor Leonard Wood who was able to make use of it. Wood was someone I had heard about casually from family members recalling the stories heard from previous generations. Later I would find his name being mentioned by my great uncle Miguel in letters to my great grandfather Daniel Arcilla Romualdez. The earliest family correspondence mentioning Wood dates back to 1907, a year after Wood ended his stint as governor of Moro Province. In less than 20 years, Miguel would be appointed the sixth mayor of Manila (1924-1927) by no other than Wood, who had become governor general of the Philippines in 1921.
Wood was somewhat of a polarizing figure not only in the US but in the Philippines as well. It was either you liked him or you didn’t. He instituted well received reforms in places like Cuba, where he served as governor from 1899 to 1902. From 1903 to 1906, Wood was assigned as governor to the Moro Province in the Philippines where, in the final days of his tenure, the Battle of Bud Dajo broke out. It is touted to be the “bloodiest engagement of the Moro Rebellion.” Hundreds of Bud Dajo died. Some say even a thousand were massacred by the Americans. There were only six Bud Dajo survivors.
In 1907, Wood became commander of the Philippine Division and based on the correspondence between my great grandfather Daniel Romualdez (who was a Justice of the Peace in Tacloban, Leyte from 1902 up to his death in 1909) with his sons, the Romualdez family had a very warm relationship with the Harvard trained doctor turned military man.
Wood went back to America in 1910 but returned to Manila in 1921 as governor general. He believed the Filipinos were not yet ready for independence, likening this desire to “Christians wanting to go to heaven… They all want to go there but not now.” History books also remember Wood for helping build the country’s economy, improving public health and sanitation sectors. He died in America in 1927.