Massive fire guts Manila’s historic post office building

Camille Elemia
Massive fire guts Manila’s historic post office building Smoke billows from the still smoldering historic Manila Central Post Office in the Philippine capital early Monday, May 22, 2023.
Aaron Favila/AP

A massive fire ripped through the historic Manila Central Post Office, raging for nearly eight hours until it was brought under control Monday morning, leaving only the shell of the grand structure standing.

No one was killed but at least seven firefighters were injured in the blaze that started in the basement of the neoclassical building, although its cause has not been determined, fire officials said.

“The structure was totally burned, 100%. This is devastating because this is a historic building. But we failed to handle it. The remnants must be preserved,” Postmaster General Luis Carlos told reporters on Monday.

“The whole structure itself is important because it is a heritage site. We have to look for a structural engineer to check the integrity of the building,” he said. 

The fire was reported at 11:41 p.m. Sunday and reached the highest alarm level after six hours, prompting nearly 100 fire trucks from Manila and nearby cities to rush to the scene. Firefighters and volunteers struggled before bringing it under control at 7:22 a.m.

Manila Fire District Senior Superintendent Christine Cula said the building was not equipped with sprinklers.

Carlos, the postmaster general, expressed sadness over the destruction of the building which serves as the main hub of the country’s mail sorting and distribution operations and the central office for the Philippine Postal Corp. 

He also said the whole library of stamps had burned, including the country’s collection of commemorative and antique stamps. 

Designed by renowned architects Tomas Mapua and Juan Arellano and constructed in 1926, the structure was destroyed during the month-long Battle of Manila at the end of World War II, but was rebuilt in 1946 to its original design.

Calls for restoration 

Several lawmakers have called on the government to restore the building, once dubbed the grandest structure in Manila.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Juan Edgardo Angara vowed to work with the Department of Budget and Management to seek possible sources of funding. 

House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said the government should tap into the 13 billion peso ($233 million) contingency fund under the control of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as well as into the 19 billion ($340.7 million) calamity fund to restore the building. 

In 2018, the National Museum declared the building an “important cultural property” with exceptional cultural, artistic and historical significance to the country. 

Under the Republic Act 10066 (the National Culture Heritage Act of 2009), a landmark declared as an important cultural property “may receive government funding for its protection, conservation, and restoration.” 

Sen. Loren Legarda, who heads the committee on culture and the arts, called on authorities to investigate the cause of the fire so it “will never happen again.” 

“It is indeed a tragic and heartbreaking incident,” she said. “We must protect our historical sites such as this significant architectural inheritance.” 

Flames shoot out from the Manila Central Post Office building, May 22, 2023. [Manila city government handout]

Renacimiento Manila, a cultural organization dedicated to reviving heritage areas of Manila, said the Conservation Management Plan for the Manila Central Post Office building was completed in 2019. The plan allotted $2.7 million (150.5 million pesos) through the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for restoration, but no other details were given.

NEDA did not respond to a BenarNews request for comment.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.