The Philippine Star
The ghosts of Malacañang & the future palace of Duterte
and women. During his presidency, it was reported that he was building three mansions, one of which was for his mistress Laarni Enriquez — what would later be known as Boracay Mansion — and later forfeited by the government.
The third option is Bahay Pangarap, across the Pasig River and where the PSG (Presidential Security Group) compound is located. This is where outgoing President Noynoy Aquino lives. The structure was built by Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon as a rest house when he wanted to escape the public life of the palace. Of the three options within the palace walls, this is the smallest — fit for a bachelor president — but it’s not that small. It has a swimming pool and originally had one bedroom and was expanded to three to accommodate security and housekeeping staff.
The fourth is Arlegui Mansion, a private property which has since been returned to the Laperal family. GMA offered incoming president P-Noy this option, but he chose Bahay Pangarap instead.
Two presidents lived in Arlegui — Cory and FVR. They rented it as their residence and the Guest House as their offices. Cory wanted to continue living in the Aquino family house on Times St. in Quezon City but was convinced by the PSG that it was a risky arrangement. She didn’t want to live in Malacañang either.
Daughter Ballsy Aquino-Cruz remembers being in Arlegui during the August 1987 coup attempt. “We woke up because of the gunshots that were continuous, very much like the ‘sinturon ni judas’ firecracker. Then PSG head Col. Gazmin wanted all of us on the ground floor and he had all the lights turned off. It seemed to me that the rebels were just by the gate — they seemed very close and ready to barge in.”
Arlegui Mansion was forcibly seized by Marcos when he assumed office in 1965, citing “security” as his reason, even though the mansion sits on Arlegui St. outside Malacañang walls. One of the first acts under the present Aquino administration was to return the mansion to the Laperals. The family says the government still owes them rent and the mansion is now up for sale for P1 billion.
We asked director Faustino his suggestion for the official residence of the Dutertes given that the president-elect is afraid of ghosts. “It would have to be Bahay Pangarap because it’s already set up. Even if you say it’s for a bachelor, it’s still big. Also, being detached from the offices in Malacanang, it would help the President in achieving optimal work-life balance.”
Faustino adds that in terms of security, it would have to be Malacañang Palace. “I can only speak historically. The palace has been used by Presidents Quezon, Laurel, Osmeña, Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos and Arroyo. Security-wise, it’s very well guarded. The PSG knows the ins and outs of the building. The structure itself is supposedly bulletproof since Imelda Marcos renovated it. Nowadays, you can’t open some windows because the glass is so thick and it has dropped to the frame through the years. The only way you can open them is to destroy the whole frame.”
Imee Marcos once saw the ghost of President Manuel Quezon. Employees say they’ve seen the ghost of Roxas in a palace room, smoking his cigarette. And the ghost of a child also playing in the Roxas Room. Others saw the ghost of Garcia playing at his chessboard, a game the president was very good at.
Malacañang Palace’s private residences are on the second floor, just off the grand staircase. Under the different presidencies, the rooms change their functions. What were bedrooms before are turned into offices or vice versa, but the structure itself has remained as it was since Imelda’s renovation in 1979, when all Spanish and American colonial influence were effectively erased — turning it into Filipino with the theme “Malakas and Maganda” to represent herself and her husband.
So, yes, any president can do whatever he or she pleases with Malacañang, but the past five administrations have left it alone.
The first sighting of the interior of Malacañang by the public since Magsaysay opened the palace to the people in the 1950s would be in 1986, after the People Power Revolution and the Marcoses had fled. Protesters stormed Malacañang, tearing documents, waving the Philippine flag. You can see their expression in the old pictures as they saw traces of the Marcoses’ greed and avarice — a mixture of anger, awe, grief, and then silence.
GHOSTS OF PRESIDENTS PAST & MR. BROWN
FVR’s First Lady Ming Ramos has always been known for her love of gardens. When she was first lady, she looked around the palace grounds and thought it would be a good idea to plant some flowers right outside the state entrance.
So she planted flowers near the balete tree that’s more than a hundred years old, but the flowers kept dying and, for once, her green thumb didn’t seem to be working. A palace staff asked her, “First Lady,
nagpaalam na po ba kayo kay Mr. Brown?” She said, “Sino si Mr. Brown?” Mr. Brown is Malacañang’s resident
kapre, a mythological creature that’s phenomenally tall, sits on big trees (they always seem to prefer balete trees) and smokes a cigarette. The palace staff believe that Mr. Brown protects the balete tree and by extension the palace.
Perhaps the first lady thought it was nonsense, but it’s said that she nonetheless did what every Filipino does whether they believe in these things or not: she asked permission. She went back to the tree and said, “Mr. Brown, I’m just trying to make your space more beautiful, patubuin mo naman ang mga bulaklak ko.”
And they did — whether it’s due to Mr. Brown or the flowers were finally in season is still up for debate.
The balete tree is so huge and beautiful that state events have been held there, from the signing of international agreements to evening socials when drop lamps are hung from its branches to illuminate the space.
Museum guide Louie Esquivel says Imee Marcos once claimed she saw the ghost of President Manuel Quezon in one of the palace rooms during her father’s presidency.
Some employees have claimed that they’ve seen the ghost of Roxas in a palace room, smoking. While two people on separate occasions saw the ghost of a child playing in the Roxas Room.
During the FVR presidency, others said they saw the ghost of Garcia playing at his chessboard, a game the president was very good at.
“During the time of GMA, there was a photo taken of a headless ghost daw at the state entrance of Malacañang of a PSG na walang ulo,” says Esquivel, “but a photographer says perhaps the photo was overexposed or the PSG moved kaya nawala ang ulo.”
And yet, while three presidents have died during their term, not a single one died in Malacañang Palace. Roxas died of a heart attack after giving a speech at Clark Air Base, Quezon died of tuberculosis in New York, and Magsaysay died in a plane crash.
Apart from dead presidents, sightings have reportedly been made of the ghosts of Spanish and American-era officials in the corridors and rooms of the palace.
Just writing this part of the story is giving me goose bumps. So, maybe Duterte is right in not wanting to live there.
THE TEENAGE FIRST LADY
Weddings of most politicians’ children are grand affairs, even more so for presidential children. Five weddings have been held in Malacañang Palace, those of Mikey Arroyo, Jackie Estrada, Jo Ramos, Linda Garcia and Victoria Quirino.
Victoria’s father Elpidio Quirino came into the presidency a widower. His wife Alicia and three of their five children were massacred during the Japanese occupation. He survived the shooting, along with his daughter Victoria and son Tomas.
Victoria was 16 years old, a high school student, when she became the first lady during her father’s term. She said that living in Malacañang felt like a fish living in a fish bowl. “Nakatutok lahat ang mata
ng tao.” Her every move was watched and she was the only girl in school who was trailed by security personnel when she walked on the campus.
There is a black-and-white picture of Victoria Quirino’s wedding to then Philippine Ambassador to Spain Luis Gonzalez. The wedding was held at the palace’s Reception Hall. In the photo, the president seems sad as he looks at his daughter. Victoria was only 19 when she got married.
President Quirino was supposed to have said, “I will allow you to marry and if you really want your independence, you will get it on Independence Day.” She was married on July 4, 1950, and continued living in Malacañang and functioning as first lady for three more years after that.
Director Faustino says that traditionally, the first lady is the official hostess of the palace. She helps arrange the state functions and “makes the palace the home for the president’s family.” But also, the past six years of having a bachelor president has proven that the palace can survive without one.
GMA and Cory didn’t have first ladies either. Dr. Loi Estrada, along with other first ladies, was more focused on charity work rather than decorating the palace as Imelda did.
First Lady Eva Macapagal started commissioning busts of national heroes by Guillermo Tolentino, which now line the Heroes Hall in the palace. Formerly named the Social Hall, it was built by Quezon for informal gatherings, and has since been used for state dinners for visiting heads of state. Ironically, it was from this hall that Marcos and Estrada walked last to leave the palace.
“First Lady Eva Macapagal was known for being mabusisi sa gamit and cleaning of the palace,” says Esquivel.
Who was the biggest official first family? Osmeña’s with 13 children from the President’s first wife Estefania and second wife Esperanza.
THE PALACE OF THE PEOPLE & THE PALACE AS PRISON
Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the First Republic of the Philippines, never really used the palace during his presidency.
“When he was captured in Isabela by the Americans in 1901, he was brought to Malacañang not as president but as prisoner,” says Esquivel. “He was kept in one of the rooms, and that room was later named after him.”
It was the second president that lived in Malacañang, Manuel Quezon.
Today, people who enter the palace grounds from JP Laurel St. are surprised that it doesn’t look like the palace on the P20 note. This is actually the back of the palace; the front faces Pasig River and can only be seen if you take a ferry.
The Quezon Room or Quezon’s office during his presidency at the Executive Building has a balcony that overlooks the river.
He did the first major renovation of Malacañang Palace in 1938. He added two “towers” on either end (the palace is only two floors) of the building. He wanted it to look, well, more palatial. He built the rest house across the river (now Bahay Pangarap) and acquired marvelous chandeliers from Czechoslovakia made of Bohemian glass.
It was a renovation welcomed by the people who were promised their independence from America.
President Magsaysay famously said, “I will send my own father to jail if he breaks the law.”
He also said that “Malacanang is the palace of the people.” And during his time, ordinary folks could have picnics on the palace grounds and visit him wearing tsinelas.
The next major renovations were done during the Marcos era, in 1978 to 1979. Imelda Marcos had the most impact on how the palace looked. “The palace is wholly Imelda,” says Faustino. “They renovated it so much that the former residents could not recognize the rooms after that.”
Was it an improvement? “Historically speaking, nabago lahat, nawala yung remnants of Spanish and American features, even the Commonwealth period. But also, it was modernized. For example, individual air-conditioning units were centralized, the electrical wiring was rationalized.”
The renovation made it more Filipino — or to be more precise, made it more Marcos. Malakas (Marcos) and Maganda (Imelda) glass doors were installed at the entrance, she acquired paintings of herself and her husband, and she put maze corridors that allowed waiters to navigate the palace without being seen in public, etc.
The Marcos dictatorship crippled the country and left it in massive debt, in no small part due to the excess inside Malacañang Palace itself.
Under the succeeding administrations of Cory and FVR, a museum was established and Malacañang Palace tours were opened to the public. This was discontinued by Estrada. Under GMA the museum was transferred to its present location: the Executive Building east of the palace.
President-elect Duterte, riding on his campaign of discipline and change, has said he will open it to the people again. Perhaps Malacañang Palace can finally go back to being for and of the people.
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @iamtanyalara. Check out her travel blog at www.findingmyway.net.