Reimagine Post Office Building transformation


Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the Manila Central Post Office building could be transformed into a first-class hotel and a key feature of the city’s historical quarter.

This scenario was brought to public attention in March 2012 in a Philippine Star news story. Gemma Cruz Araneta, who served as tourism secretary during the Estrada administration, was then with the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission, was cited as saying that there were negotiations with Fullerton Hotel in Singapore to bring this concept to fruition.

Fuillerton Hotel officially opened on Jan. 1, 2001 four years after its owners acquired the iconic building from Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. Its redevelopment into a hotel and the construction of a commercial complex now known as Fullerton One reportedly cost $300 million. It was originally known as the Fullerton Building, and also as the General Post Office Building.

Like our Post Office Building that is situated right next to the Pasig River, the Fullerton/General Post Office Building is adjacent to the Singapore River, overlooking the Merlion, another iconic landmark.

Fortunately, I experienced staying at the Fullerton when President Noynoy Aquino visited the city in March 2011. I am unaware of other details pertaining to the reported negotiations. All I know is that this was not taken up in any Cabinet meeting during the Aquino administration. I could imagine that its redevelopment could have been undertaken as a public-private partnership (PPP) as this was the mode of implementing major infrastructure projects.

Previously an attached agency of the former Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the erstwhile Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT), the Philippine Postal Corporation is under the direct jurisdiction of the Office of the President of the Philippines. If this concept passes muster, President Marcos could very well task Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco to initiate talks with her Singapore counterpart. It would not be difficult to get Philippine business groups to join a project consortium.

Like Singapore’s Fullerton/General Post Office Building, the Manila Central Post Office Building’s neoclassical architecture provides tremendous visual attraction – and especially because of its proximity to the National Museums, the Manila City Hall, Metropolitan Theater, Rizal Park and the Intramuros Walled City, it has all the desirable attributes of a tourism destination hub.

Citing AsiaOne, Wikipedia provides a heartwarming account of work at the Singapore Post Office:

“The life of postal workers back then was incomparable with postmen working at Singapore Post today. Fridays used to be the day which overseas mail would arrive from Britain and postal workers had to work overtime with no extra pay, just to wait for the mail to arrive and then sieve through and sort them before ending work. Also, they were not entitled to any days off and had to work around the clock.

“An interesting discovery from the history of the General Post Office is the presence of Santa Claus Main Office up till today. During Christmas seasons in the past, the post office would be filled with letters from children, which are all directed to Santa Claus. These letters were then sent to the Salvation Army, who would reply the children on behalf of Santa Claus. Presently, these letters are forwarded to the Santa Claus Main Office which is situated in the Santa Claus Village in Finland. This shows that the British's establishments of fulfilling children's wishes are still present today although many significant changes had occurred.”

“If these walls could speak,” one might write about the gutted structure of the Manila Central Post Office Building. Indeed, if a diligent historian would launch a similar project to collect memorable vignettes from the thousands of postal service workers who have toiled within this building, they, too, could share their stories of how they served with dedication and perseverance.

In a blog on Manila Nostalgia authored by Lou Gopal, detailed accounts are provided on the history of this iconic building as well as on the background of its architect, Juan Marcos Arellano.

Let there be a fullsome appreciation for the treasure trove of historical heritage surrounding the Manila Central Post Office. Transforming it into a tourist haven offers the best scenario for its perpetuity.

An Inquirer online story quotes heritage consultant Stephen Pamorada, who observes that the building “fixed the history of Philippine communication.” Hence, he says, those concerned with its restoration must “maintain the spirit of the place.”
Rep. Ralph Recto, a former Cabinet member and Senate leader also issued this statement:

“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.”