Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Manila Post Office

A gem.

Years ago, according to my teacher, she used to recall the long lines that the post office had every Christmas, mostly friends and family members who had loved ones in abroad. Before the rise of technological advancements in Manila, the post was the life-blood of communication and business during those crucial years. It was a gem, making "talking" with relatives and acquaintances a happy possibility for an era where text messaging was nothing more than an object of one's sci-fi read.

Before and, especially, after the war the influx of a need to connect with other people was met by mail. My family was a witness to the transition of mail to electronic mail, with my father being a maritime man and my parent's grandparents living in Japan the number of mail we received was fairly big -- with my dad's collection of stamps and TB stubs counting among them Japanese stamps.

Comics of the 1990s still make the passing remark of the tradition of having "pen pals" and joke about them, how people still try to find friendship and love through mail, there was even a time when, in a bid of advertising and looking for anyone to talk to, people would write to magazines to have their names and addresses printed in the Pen Pal corner of the magazine. Some even write their addresses on paper bills, hoping that they'll find decent people to talk to on the mail.

But, with the march of progress, the numbers dwindled and the lines gradually decreased. The once large crowds that flock to the post office decreased to a few who still clamor for a classic form of what is now called "art." We became one of the patrons of the first internet cafes in Escoda and would usually send electronic greeting cards to our father. The physical cards and letters changed to nothing more than electronic data as memories of an era full of mail got stacked into my desk along with Philippines 2000 booklets on mail and my book on Philippine Stamps.

In the Christmas season of 2012, I went to the Post Office to mail one letter to Adam Young (Owl City) in Minnesota, where I received from him some signed album covers and a stamp from MN. It was my first time in there, with only a few people sending Christmas wishes in there, but the structure captured my imagination as I wonder about its past, beyond the stinking fountain and the smelly informal settler land, it was still a gem.

Sporting a neoclassical design similar to most, if not all, of the government structures built during that period. Designed by Juan M. Arellano, the post office is home to the head office of Philippine Postal Corporation, commonly known by its nickname "Philpost" by people.

The office was a witness to the passing times; Built besides the Pasig River during a time when that watery arm that connects Laguna De Bai and Manila Bay was used as a major waterway and boats were a mode of transportation, destroyed by the war between the Americans and the Japanese before being restored to its former glory just when the nation is beginning to stand up again on its feet and its wobbly members is still in need of a way to connect with family and friends.

It faces the Liwasang Bonifacio which, too, had a whole too many name changes in the past. It was once called Plaza Arrocerros during the Spanish era and it was the first home of the statue of the Queen of Spain, Isabel II. Then, with the tide that swept the Americans and brought forth a new change to Manila the plaza was re-christianized and named after Gen. Henry Ware Lawton, the highest ranking casualty in the war with the Filipinos. Busses and jeeps still now the place as "Lawton" even after more than six decades since it was re-named as a fitting honor to one of the notable sons of Manila: Andres Bonifacio.

It was a witness to the intrigue that surrounded and soon destroyed the reputation of the corporation as issues of missing mail and money orders grew large and spread like wildfire into the whole of the nation... a big set back to the only thing that once connected the many islands of the archipelago. The corporation still has a long way to go to bring back and gather the trust of the people they are serving.

Stamps: A mirror

Philately records the many faces of the country and the world, giving a mirror into what was and what is. In celebration of many things like the inauguration of a new president or the passing of a law. After some time, the government even used the stamps themselves to promote the main projects of the government, lauding praise for the president. They also commemorate anniversaries and give honor to men and women who were leading figures in the history of the Philippines and those that shaped the course of the future.

Then it featured nationalism, themes that delved into nature and the arts. The stamps themselves become an art form so elegant and worth collecting, just as many men of before and now still continue this glorious past time of collecting stamps.

The Post Office itself houses a whole collection of stamps, a small sample of a wonderful art in print. But the museum itself was clearly unattractive and unkept. The whole exhibit was dark, with none of the adequate lighting expected of museums of such wonderful specimens. It was hot, having viewed this place in summer, and it had no adequate air conditioning. Banes for any tourist, the exhibit itself would have attracted tourists if it had it made known to the tourism world and placed it in a more attractive space, one that does not go to a random building full of dust.

One other thing that I found quite... well... annoying is the fact that they had no labels. At least not all of the items. Which leaves any visitor to the museum wondering what is what. It would have been better, of course, if it had tourist guides to explain the fascinating story behind each item. But,alas, this is too much of a dream for them too accomplish.

In my opinion, the Philippine Post Office must;

a. Organize a tour of the whole structure
This would mean more people, students and foreigners alike, will find interest in the Post Office and would therefore have some of the budget from the fees collected from the organized tours of the facility. It should be really publicized so that even schools would op to visiting this historically-significant place rather than some mall.

b. Re-locate the exhibit
Or at the very least, add air conditioning and add lighting and labels to all of the items concerned. Why? AN exhibit will fascinate anyone, making them curious about stamps. In the end, it will even attract the youth to collect stamps and that will in turn be business for the post office. The place where the museum is located in its present condition, I'm sorry to say, is hardly attractive. If anything, it repels people, looking like a haunted house and whatnot.

c. Remove the squatters surrounding Liwasang Bonifacio
Seriously. They ward off people.

d. Promote a new image of the Philpost/re-update the website
The people are more on the web, so what better way of attracting attention and providing information than by posting info on the web? This, and some options regarding alternative ways to purchase stamps and to have them mailed to anyone interested will be a great boost for the world of Philately and the Post Office. 

If only they could do that, well, let's just say that this gem has hope of getting polished once more.


Mr. Lawrence Chan and the Filipinas Stamp Collectors' Club have a monthly tour of the Manila Post Office and other locations for free (plus donations and museum fees). It is guaranteed to be the most awesome tour of the city. 

For more info, please contact:
Mrs. Josie Tiongson – Cura – ( 0917-9800708 / GLOBE )
Everyday -preferably office hours

Mr. Lawrence Chan – ( 0919-3901671) anytime preferably 7:00am to past 10PM
Mr. Rey Ong De Jesus- Education and Exhibition
(577-1297) Monday to Saturday 8am to 5pm only

SOUTH BIKE fully supports any inquiries on the facts noted on this page or for any question regarding this article, the pictures and other materials on this blog. All pictures are property of South Bike and Midsummer Daydreams Film & Photography and may be used for any non-profit material, post and/or article.