A few weeks back, my best buddy and I found ourselves at the Presidential Museum and Library at the Kalayaan Hall within the historically hallowed grounds of the Malacañang Complex. Unlike most museums in the metropolis, this perhaps has the most security considerations. I remember that we had to formally request a reservation at least seven working days prior to our desired tour date.
I understand all these security measures too since the Malacañan Palace, the official seat and residence of the President of the Philippines, is also within the complex grounds. I told our tour guide that morning that I almost was not able to take their confirmation call last time, because there was no number that flashed on my mobile phone screen. Thankfully I mistook it for an overseas call and not some high-tech prank.
This museum houses historically important and architecturally significant rooms in the Philippines. These served as conference rooms or an executive study back in the day. The hardwood furniture, the intricate wood carvings and the original floor tiles are all still there, although some of the rooms have been converted into galleries with interesting themes. There was one which showed the various, albeit contentious, Presidential Proclamations while another showcased the portraits of the First Ladies through the years.
At the second floor you can be both lost and mesmerized in the Gallery of Presidents. It is composed of interesting memorabilia such as clothing, gifts and personal effects of the 15 Filipinos who have held the highest position of the land – from Emilio Aguinaldo up to President Benigno S. Aquino III. You can somehow imagine the kind of person each of them was, by the things that they left behind.
Admittedly, I was looking forward to see Joaquin Sorolla’s ‘Las Neriedas‘ (The Nereids) at the spacious Main Hall and Library, where the Gallery of Presidents is located. This 1886 painting was donated to the Palace by an American philanthropist during the term of President Elpidio Quirino. According to Interaksyon.com, ‘the value of this painting can cover the restoration of the entire Palace, should Malacañang were to be destroyed.’
“Is the President around today?” I asked our guide while we were nearing the end of tour. There was a palpable few seconds before he finally told us that he actually didn’t know. Looking back now, I could only smile at what those few seconds meant. It could probably mean that they were not allowed to disclose the President’s whereabouts or that they were not actually privy to where he was at any hour of the day.
I knew that the museum tour would only cover the Kalayaan Hall but I asked him nonetheless if we could take a quick view of the Malacañan Palace. I added that I’ve always wanted to see the Rizal Ceremonial Hall and Juan Luna’s Blood Compact in person. He could only apologetically smile and then turned down our request.
For ordinary Joes like myself, the only real possibility of setting foot inside the Palace is to be among the TOSP (Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines) finalists in college. Had I realized that, I would have studied impossibly harder back then. But there are other options too. I could do something heroic for the country and then be duly recognized by the President. Well, I could run for President someday and by then I could freely explore every nook and cranny there is at Malacañan.
But for the time being, I have no grand illusions of doing the latter. I am already content with the Malacañang museum tour even if it only covered a tiny portion of the 16 hectare Palace complex. It gives the public, myself included, an opportunity to visit the headquarters of the executive department of the government. It chronicles not just the history of its famous occupants through the years, but also that of the Philippines as a whole.
Tours and Visitor Relations Unit
Tel: (+63-2) 784 4286 loc. 4945/4649
The Presidential Museum and Library is open on weekdays only (except on public holidays), from 9 AM to 12 noon and from 1 pm to 3 pm. Regular fee is just Php 50.00. You have to submit a reservation form at least seven (7) working days before your preferred tour date.