Malacañan Palace, as seen from the Pasig River.
Malacañang Palace, or officially, Malacañan Palace, is the official residence of the President of the Philippines. The palace is located along the north bank of the Pasig River in Manila. It is called Palasyo ng Malakanyang in Filipino, and Malacañan Palace when referred to as the official residence of the President of the Philippines. In popular media and everyday parlance, it is simply referred to as Malacañang, and this shorter name is also used when referring to its role as the office of the president. The term "Malacañang" can be used as a metonym for the Philippine President's administration or the Executive branch as a whole. Malacañang Palace is depicted on the verso (back) side of the present-day 20-peso bill.
Today the complex consists of several buildings in addition to Malacañang Palace itself. Bonifacio Hall, formerly the Premier Guest House, was used as the main office of Corazon C. Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and leader of the People Power Revolution that ousted the previous president Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986. Later, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada adopted it as his residence. Kalayaan Hall is the former executive building built under the American administration. Mabini Hall is the the current Administration Building. A New Executive Building was also built by President Aquino. Additionally there are other, smaller buildings. Across the river is Malacañang Park, which contains a golf course, park, billets for the presidential guard, as well as a Commonwealth-era presidential resthouse (Bahay Pangarap) and recreation hall.
The state and historical rooms of the Palace aren't often seen by the public. The Palace is closed and heavily guarded during times of political unrest, although prior to the Marcos administration, access was far more restricted than in the modern era. This lack of access by the public was particularly notable during the Ramon Magsaysay) administration in the 1950s. Rallyists often congregate along Mendiola Street nearby to air their protests against the government.
The official etymology from the 1930s says that the name comes from a Tagalog phrase "may lakan diyan", which means "there is a nobleman there", as it was the home of a wealthy Spanish merchant before it hosted the nation's chief executive. The Spanish themselves, on the other hand, said the name came from "Mamalakaya," or the fishermen who once laid out their catch in the bend of the river where the Palace now stands.  A more mundane claim is that the Palace actually got its name from the street where it was located, the Calzada de Malacañang.
Whatever its origin, the word Malacañang is indisputably Tagalog. Because the Spanish language avoids using "-ng" as the final sound of a word, the Spanish colonialists hispanized Malacañang to Malacañán. The Spanish version of the name was maintained during the American occupation of the Philippines from 1898 until 1946, despite the fact that "-ng" as a final sound is very familiar in the English language. "Malacañan" remains to this day an acceptable English version name of the Palace. However, during the 1950s presidency of Ramon Magsaysay, the Philippine government restored the dropped "g" to Malacañang in honor of its historical roots.
The Spanish Captains-General (before the independence of New Spain, from which the Philippines was directly governed) and then the Governors-General of the Philippines originally resided in the walled city of Intramuros, Manila, until an earthquake leveled the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor's Palace) in 1869. At this point, Malacañang Palace, a summer home originally built in 1802 by Spanish aristocrat Don Luis Rocha, then subsequently purchased by an official and then purchased by the state, became the temporary residence of the Governors-General. Governor General Rafael de Echague y Berminghan, previously governor of Puerto Rico, was therefore the first Spanish governor to occupy Malacañang Palace.
When the Philippines came under American rule following the Spanish-American War, Malacañang Palace became the residence of the American Governor-General. In 1900, William Howard Taft became the first American Civil Governor resident. The palace was expanded, and an Executive building added by Governors-General Francis Burton Harrison and Dwight Davis. The complex reverted to the President of the Philippines upon the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, on November 15, 1935. President Manuel L. Quezon became the first Filipino resident of Malacañang Palace. It has been the official residence of the President of the Philippines since. After his inauguration on December 30, 1953, President Ramon Magsaysay issued an Executive Order formally changing the name from "Malacañang Palace" to "Malacañang: Residence of the President of the Philippines." The new nomenclature rapidly caught on and was maintained until informally abandoned during the Marcos administration. During the administration of President Corazon Aquino, for historical reasons, government policy has been to make the distinction between "Malacañan Palace", official residence of the president, and "Malacañang", office of the president.
The palace was made famous as the home of President Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who were its longest residents, from 1965 to 1986. As first lady, Mrs. Marcos oversaw the reconstruction of the palace to her own extravagant tastes. Including the former San Miguel Brewery Buildings, which was demolished upon Expansion, paving away to a park near the San Miguel Church. Following a student uprising that nearly breached the palace gates in the early 1970s, martial law was declared, and the complex was closed to the public. When President Marcos was deposed in 1986, the palace complex was stormed by the local populace, and the international media subsequently exposed the excesses of the Marcos family, including Mrs. Marcos' infamous collection of thousands of shoes.
Official visitors to Malacanang use the Entrance Hall. Its floor and walls are of beige Philippine marble. Straight ahead are the doors to the Grand Staircase leading to the state reception rooms. On the left is the Palace chapel. The passage on the right leads to Heroes Hall.
The doors leading to the Grand Staircase depict the Philippine legend of Malakas (Strong) and Maganda (Beautiful), the first Filipino man and woman who emerged from a large bamboo stalk. The present resin doors were installed in 1979, replacing wrought iron and painted glass doors from the American period depicting Lapu Lapu and the other Mactan chieftains who felled Magellan.
A pair of lions used to stand guard on each side of the doors to the Grand Staircase. The lions were originally at the vestibule of the Ayuntamiento Building in Intramuros. They were apparently discarded during the 1978-79 renovations. Wooden benches dating back to the American Regime that were in the Hall were transferred to the private entrance that lead directly to the living quarters of the Palace.
From the Entrance Hall, one walks through a mirrored passage hung with about 40 small paintings of famous Filipinos painted in 1940 by Florentino Macabuhay.
The adjoining large room was originally the Social Hall, intended for informal gatherings. It was renamed Heroes Hall by First Lady EvaMacapagal, who commissioned Guillermo Tolentino to sculpt busts of national heroes.
In 1998, the National Centennial Commission installed three large paintings specially commissioned for the place. The one in the vestibule is by Carlos Valino, while the two others are by a group of artists headed by Karen Flores and Elmer Borlongan.
The painting in the vestibule is chronologically the second of the three, depicting events of the Propaganda Movement (Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Jose Rizal, etc.) and the Philippine Revolution from the formation of the Katipunan by Andres Bonifacio, the sewing of the Philippine flag, the Proclamation of Independence at Kawit, and the Malolos Congress. At Heroes Hall itself are the other two paintings.
As one enters from the vestibule, the painting on the left shows key events from the earliest times (arrival of the ancient Filipinos and the Manunggul Jar) through Lapu Lapu and the death of Magellan, the Muslim resistance to Spanish rule, the Basi Revolt, and Gabriela Silang, to the 1872 martyrdom of the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora.
The painting on the right begins with the Battle of Tirad Pass and Gregorio del Pilar and other events of the Filipino-American War, the Independence Movement under Osmena and Quezon, events of the Japanese Occupation, and the Presidents of the Philippines all the way to the Marcoses, President Aquino, and President Ramos.
The Hall, as large as the Ceremonial Hall directly above, received a mirrored ceiling in 1979 and for the rest of the Marcos era was used not only for meetings and informal gatherings but also for state dinners in honor of visiting Heads of State.
Among the distinguished visitors entertained in this Hall by the Marcoses were the President of Mexico, the Prime Minister of Thailand and Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom. Dinner was usually followed by a cultural presentation, after which formal toasts were offered by the President and the guest of honor.
Past the Malakas and Maganda doors of the Entrance Hall is the Grand Staircase, made of the finest Philippine hardwood and carpeted in red. Its walls are made of tiny pieces of wood, assembled to simulate sawali panels. These were put up in 1979 replacing stucco and hardwood panels. At the top of the stairs is the landing that serves as vestibule to the Reception Hall.
The Spanish and American Governors General and Philippine Presidents and their visitors used this staircase. (Or, to be precise, the staircase that used to be there before the Marcos reconstruction.) There is a story that Jose Rizal's mother, Dona Teodora Alonzo Mercado, went up these stairs on her knees to beg then Governor General Camilo Polavieja for her son's life. The staircase is narrower than it used to be.
A legacy of the Spanish regime are unsigned portraits of Spanish conquistadors Hernando Cortes, Sebastian del Cano, Fernando Magallanes, and Cristobal Colon, hung at the balcony around the stairs. At the end of the balcony a magnificent harvest scene by Fernando Amorsolo hangs.
A large painting of the Nereids (sea nymphs) by noted Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla, donated by Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, noted San Francisco social and civic leader, of the Hawaii and California sugar Spreckels, used to hang in place of the Luna. A case of Marcos war medals, subsequently alleged to be fake, took its place towards the end of the Marcos Regime. The case continued to be on display, empty, for some years thereafter.
A on the left as one reaches the top of the stairs, is the famous 'The Blood Compact,' still in its original carved frame. It was painted by Juan Luna in 1886 and given to the government in return for the artist's scholarship in Spain. The painting shows the Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and the Bohol Raja Sikatuna drinking wine with drops of their blood. The model for Sikatuna (the helmeted man shown from behind at left) was Jose Rizal and the model for Legaspi (the Spaniard seated facing the viewer) was Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Luna's uncle in law. Turning right, one sees the grand vista that is the length of the Reception Hall and the width of the Ceremonial Hall beyond.
The door on the left leads to the private quarters of the Presidential families. This wing contained the private dining and living rooms and two guest suites, used for meetings and waiting rooms in 1986-2001 when Presidents Aquino and Ramos lived in the Arlegui Guest House and President Estrada lived in the Premier Guest House. President Arroyo and her family live in this wing. The door straight ahead leads to a corridor that surrounds the inner court within the private quarters.
Visitors assemble in this impressive room prior to a program or state function at the Ceremonial Hall beyond, or while waiting to be received by the President or the First Lady at the Study Room or the Music Room on the left, or before entering the State Dining Room on the right.
This room was the largest of the Palace before the 1979 renovation. Old photographs show President and Mrs. Manuel L. Quezon receiving guests close to the top of the Grand Staircase at New Year's Day 'at home' and other affairs. A Rigodon de Honor, a formal dance of Spanish Regime origin, would begin Balls, giving the most important couples present the opportunity to show off clothes and jewelry. Some ladies in that bygone era wore ternos only once.
Easily the most outstanding feature of the Reception Hall are the three large Czechoslovakian chandeliers bought in 1937. These have always been treasured and during the Second World War, were carefully disassembled prism by prism and hidden for safekeeping. They were taken out and reassembled after the war.
Official portraits of all Philippine Presidents are on the walls, from Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the Malolos Republic, to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, painted by Fernando Amorsolo, Garcia Llamas and other noted artists. The portrait of President Arroyo first hung in this hall was photograph taken by Rupert Jacinto. That of President Ramos is unique on three counts - it is on a narra plank rather than on canvas, the likeness as well as the decorations along the sides are painstaikingly singed on the wood and it was a gift of the artist, Gaycer Masilang, a prisoner serving a life sentence.
An elaborate ceiling was installed in the 1930s, carved by noted sculptor Isabelo Tampingco who depicted vases of flowers against a lattice background. Large mirrors, gilt sofas and armchairs, and Chinese bronze pedestals holding plant and flower arrangements decorate the Hall. The Tampingco woodwork was curved and in some eyes gave the room a coffin shape. This is supposedly why in the 1979 renovation, the Tampingcos were replaced with two facing balconies.
This room, the largest in the Palace today, is also known as the Ballroom, used for state dinners and large assemblies, notably the mass oath takings of public officials begun by President Ramos. The upholstered benches are lined up for guests on such occasions. When the room is used for state dinners, the benches are removed and round tables set in place. Orchestras sometimes play from the minstrels' galleries at two ends of the hall.
Three large wood and glass chandeliers illuminate the Hall. Carved and installed in 1979 by the famous Juan Flores of Betis, Pampanga, the chandeliers are masterpieces of Philippine artistry in wood.
The Hall used to be much smaller and was in effect merely an extension of the Reception Hall. It had a coved ceiling similar to those of old Philippine homes, and glass doors opening to verandahs on three sides overlooking the Pasig and Malacanang Park. Many an al fresco party was held here, with round tables set on the azoteas and verandah for dinner and the Ceremonial Hall, doors thrown open, cleared for dancing. Fireworks lit the skies promptly at midnight from the Park across the river at New Year's Eve parties. The azoteas, verandas and the intimate pavilion in the middle were combined in 1979 into the present enormous Ceremonial Hall.
A recurring Palace ritual is the presentation of credentials when a new Ambassador arrives. During the Marcos Administration and prior to the 1979 renovation, new Ambassadors presented their credentials in an impressive ceremony. A flourish of trumpets accompanied the arriving Ambassador as he mounted the Grand Staircase and marched the full length of the Reception Hall. The yellow-gold curtains to the old Ceremonial Hall were parted to reveal the President standing alone at the far end, with members of the Cabinet lined up on the left. The Ambassador presented his documents of credence to the President, who handed them to the Foreign Secretary. The President then delivered his welcome speech and offered a champagne toast to the head of state of Ambassador's home country. The Ambassador then delivered his response, offered a toast to the President, and after small talk, left in another burst of trumpets.
Presidents Aquino and Ramos were less formal, receiving new Ambassadors in the Music Room without ceremony. The old rituals were revived by President Estrada, when an arriving diplomat disembarked from his car at General Solano Street and boards what is called a chariot, a luxurious open jeep where the occupant stands on a red carpet holding onto a stout bar while progressing up J.P. Laurel Street to the Palace grounds. He received military honors in the garden outside the main entrance and to fanfare, is escorted up to the Reception Hall. He marched through two columns of guards in gala uniform to present his credentials to the waiting President.
The State Dining Room is used mainly for Cabinet Meetings. In the past, this was where Presidents dined with state guests and official visitors. A long adjustable table could accommodate up to about fifty guests. The President would sit at the center of the table and the First Lady across from him. The best glass (Irish Waterford and French St. Gobain) and china (Limoges and Meissen) were brought out on special occasions. The chandeliers are Spanish, from the Ayuntamiento de Manila as are the gilded mirrors that seem have been here since the Spanish Regime.
Before the 1935-37 renovations, this room was the ballroom of the Palace. It was also where General Emilio Aguinaldo was kept prisoner after his capture by the Americans.
One of the most dramatic scenes in Palace history occurred here. In The Good Fight, President Quezon wrote that in April 1901, I had walked down the slopes of Mariveles Mountain, a defeated soldier, emaciated from hunger and lingering illness, to place myself at the mercy of the American Army. Suffering from malaria, he was also instructed to verify that Aguinaldo had in fact been captured. In Quezon's words,
... I was ushered into the office of General Arthur MacArthur, the father of the hero of the Battle of the Philippines. ... [The interpreter]... told General MacArthur in English what I had said in Spanish, namely, that I was instructed by General Mascardo to find out if General Aguinaldo had been captured. The American General, who stood erect and towered over my head, raised his hand without saying a word and pointing to the room across the hall, made a motion for me to go in there. Trembling with emotion, I slowly walked through the hall toward the room hoping against hope that I would find no one inside. At the door two American soldeiers in uniform, with gloves and bayonets, stood on guard. As I entered the room, I saw General Aguinaldo the man whom I had considered as the personification of my own beloved country, the man whom I had seen at the height of his glory surrounded by generals and soldiers, statesmen and politicians, the rich and the poor, respected and honored by all. I now saw that same man alone in a room, a prisoner of war! It is impossible for me to describe what I felt, but as I write these lines, forty-two years later, my heart throbs as fast as it did then. I felt that the whole world had crumbled; that all my hopes and dreams for my country were gone forever! It took me some time before I could collect myself, but finally,I was able to say in Tagalog, almost in a whisper, to my General: Good evening, Mr. President.
Two paintings dominate the room. The larger is a fiesta scene by National Artist Carlos Botong Francisco - a pair of tinikling dancers, a serenade, churchgoers, boatmen, and other vignettes of rural life.. Commissioned for the Manila Hotel, it originally hung in one of the Hotel lobbies but was transferred to Malacanang in 1975. The other painting is an early Amorsolo rural scene.
The room was widened and a mirrored ceiling installed in 1979. Previously, there was a long dining table at center and the decorations consisted of heavy crimson velvet curtains, large gilded mirrors and elaborate chandeliers.
Beyond is a smaller room, just as long but narrower than the dining room. Intended for Cabinet meetings and film showings, the room proved rather small and was rarely used as such. The room, called the Viewing Room, was more frequently used to hold buffets for people meeting in the State Dining Room. Another 1979 innovation, this occupies what was a verandah overlooking the Palace driveway and garden.
Formerly known as Study Room, this was where Presidents from Quezon to Marcos and then Ramos received their daily stream of callers. There is a large chandelier from the 1935-1937 renovations. President Arroyo made it into a conference room with the Council of State table of the Commonwealth as centerpiece, until she finally restored the room to its original function. The room today has been restored to its traditional function as the President's office. Of interest is the presidential desk used by all the Presidents from Quezon to Marcos (Marcos had an ornately carved top added to the desk in 1969). President Arroyo restored the use of the desk since most of her predecessors, including her father, used it.
Room usage changed over the years. A bedroom during the American period, it was turned into a library and reception room during the Commonwealth; after the War, it eventually became the Music Room. First Ladies customarily received callers in this room. A Luna masterpiece, 'Una Bulaquena' hangs above the grand piano. 'A Cellist,' painted by Miguel Zaragoza, hangs as its pendant across the room above the sofa. The wall niches now hold Chinese trees and flowers made of semi precious stones, where there used to be Guillermo Tolentino sculptures representing the different fine arts and later, large Ming and Ching porcelain vases. A supposed Michelangelo, a stone head, was once here.
Mrs. Marcos decorated the room in mint green. She would sit on the antique French sofa and the visitors on the armchairs. On rare occasions, small concerts were held here, featuring famous Filipino and foreign musicians.
The room immediately behind the Music Room was fixed up by Mrs. Marcos as her office. It later became President Fidel Valdes Ramos' private office. The room beyond it was originally a small sitting room and was converted by President Joseph Ejercito Estrada into his own office. President Arroyo decided also to use the room as her office at first. Today the room is used by the President to receive visitors.
The Palace has always been impressive, particularly the grand reception rooms. Presidents' families have not always been happy, however, over the domestic concerns of bedroom size, privacy, closet space, ventilation, color scheme, and so on.
Each new presidential couple took their pick of the available bedrooms, each President frequently avoiding the bedroom of his predecessor (which may be jinxed, for instance). A President with many children or grandchildren usually had problems, particularly when a foreign head of state arrived, expecting to be invited to stay in the Palace such as when Indonesian President Sukarno visited President Quirino shortly after the war.
The Pasig River, pristine and clear in its 19th century prime, had by the 1970s become not only smelly but also home to squadrons of mosquitoes. The unending series of renovations and repairs of a century resulted in shaky floors and leaky roofs. Ghostly happenings were also reported including some identified with a faithful valet, long dead, of President Quezon, who occasionally ministered to favored guests.
With three grown children, leaking roofs, noisy air conditioners, and cramped space the Marcoses decided in 1978 to expand the Palace. As in most renovation projects, one thing led to another until the entire Palace facade facing J.P. Laurel was pushed forward, as were the other sides of the Palace. The bedrooms of President and Mrs. Marcos were enlarged and suites were built for Mr. Ferdinand, Jr. and Misses Imee and Irene and their niece Aimee. The private living room was expanded and the entire private quarters generally added to or enlarged into the present structure.
The rooms are large and impressive, furnished expensively and equipped with central air conditioning and air filters, but are not quite the stupendous rooms that 'in comparison make Versailles Palace look like a hovel,' as a foreign observer declared. The Spanish Period Malacanang probably centered on the small skylit inner court that leads to all areas of the private quarters.
Many notables have stayed at Malacanang over the years. It is recounted that the British Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, dropped by in the 1920s to play polo. Certainly a reluctant guest in April 1901 was Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo taken to Malacanang for a few weeks after his capture at Palanan. American and Asian Presidents have stayed at Malacanang on visits to Manila.
The rooms opening to the Grand Staircase were the Dining and Living Rooms and Guest Suites of the Marcos period. These became meeting rooms during the Ramos and Estrada administrations and reverted back to being the private quarters of the Presidential Family under President Arroyo.
Reception Room. This was the Family Dining Room of Presidential families until the 1979 renovation. It used to have a magnificently carved ceiling, coffered in the Filipino-Spanish style. The famous painting of Fabian de la Rosa, 'Planting Rice,' used to hang on one wall. Other paintings, notably those by Fernando Amorsolo, were here and in the adjoining room.
The room beyond was used by the Marcoses variously as Private Living Room and as chapel and became Meeting Room No. 1 in the Aquino, Ramos and Estrada presidencies. A large Botong Francisco painting of Muslim dancers is on one wall. Brought from the Manila Hotel, this artwork is pair to the one in the State Dining Room.
Suites. Bedroom suites (one baptized by Mrs. Marcos as the King's Room and another the Queen's Room) open from the former private dining room, between which is a small skylit room that used to be a courtyard. These are furnished with large canopied beds, gilded wardrobes and the like. The King's Room leads to the balcony over the main entrance, from which Pope John Paul II blessed a waiting crowd during his 1981 Philippine visit and which President Arroyo confides was her bedroom as the young daughter of President Diosdado Macapagal.
Discotheque. A third floor, added in 1979, has a roof garden and discotheque. Reached by elevator, the disco is immediately above President Marcos' bedroom. It was complete with strobe and infinity lights, fog equipment, and the latest in music equipment. A wide waterfall-fountain plays on the terrace outside the disco and steps lead up to a rooftop helipad. It has apparently been disused since 1986.
It is the official office of the President, equivalent to the United States' Oval Office of the White House. It is on the second floor of the Palace itself, while the old Executive Office in Kalayaan Hall has been renamed the Quezon Room. The desk is the presidential desk in use since the Commonwealth of the Philippines, when the official desk of the American governor-generals was brought to the United States; it was used by all presidents from Quezon to Marcos (officially until 1978, then in his private study), restored by President Ramos, used by President Joseph Estrada, and restored once more by President Arroyo.