Monday, November 28, 2011

Manila Heritage Tour Thru Postage Stamps

I've been wanting to join the free Postal Heritage Tour offered by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors' Club (FSCC), represented by their passionate Vice-President Lawrence Chan. So when an opportunity arose to join their free tours every third Sunday of the month, I sent an email to Lawrence ( to sign up for his tour on 20 Nov. 2011.

I arrived at the fountain area of Liwasang Bonifacio by 12:15 pm, quite early from the scheduled 12:30-1:00 pm assembly time. Still tired from participating in the 10k run for Pasig River at MOA earlier that day, I wondered if I made the right decision to continue with the tour.

A movie was being shot that day on the area, with Robin Padilla as the lead actor. Slightly curious how he looked in person, I just watched one scene of Robin saving a lady from a bad guy, prior to settling on a concrete bench near the fountain.

At past 1:00 pm after Lawrence met the tour participants, he started answering our questions about the tour. He mentioned some trivia like the Liwasang Bonifacio is the original settlement area of the Chinese migrants, before transferring to Binondo area. 

The plaza where we were standing was originally called Plaza Arroceros by Spaniards, then Plaza Lawton by Americans in honor of Gen. Henry Lawton, who was killed in Novaliches (formerly barangay Bagong Silangan of San Mateo) on 1899 during the Philippine-American war. 

Then in 1960s, it was named as Liwasang Bonifacio, in honor of Andres Bonifacio, the only Filipino hero born in Manila. Naturally, Andres Bonifacio's monument replaced Gen. Lawton's monument as well. By the way, the Porsche car on the left side of the photo below is Robin Padilla's car, as I've heard from the bystanders in the fountain area that time.

We started the Postal Heritage Tour at 1:30 pm on the front entrance of the Manila Central Post Office (MCPO), the headquarters of the FSCC where they meet every 3rd Sunday of the month. Recognized as one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in Manila, its massive pinkish columns and high ceiling for good ventilation (as there was no airconditioning before) is a testament to the golden age of Philippine architecture. 

Located on the district of Intramuros along Pasig River, the MCPO was designed by a Filipino architect Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano. Having studied architecture in the U.S., Mr. Arellano was obviously inspired by the neo-classical design brought by Greco-Roman revival in the early 1900s. For me, its like a fusion of Acropolis from Greece, and President Obama's White House residence.

Built in 1926, the MCPO was heavily damaged during the Second World War when Americans flattened the city. It was rebuilt in 1946 along with Jones Bridge which was also designed by Mr. Arellano. Here's a photo behind the building, from its carpark area. There are still some surviving small gargoyles on the roof of the building, to divide the flow of rainwater from the roof.

Below is the main hallway of the building open to the public. Those thick steel bars on the counter are designed to be that thick to withstand corrosion from the salty breeze of the nearby Manila Bay. It was a time when government officials follow the building standards, and would not resort to cheaper substitutes, just to steal money from taxpayers. There was an ongoing exhibit of some postage stamps that week. Zip code guides are posted on the left side of the hallway.

Later, we entered the Postal Museum and Philatelic Library at the third floor of the Security Inspection Services building. Philately according to Wikipedia is the study of stamps and postal history, and other related items. Stamps feature historical events, heroes and famous people, notable places, and other noteworthy matters.

We have briefly seen how FSCC members trade their old collectible stamps, postcards, coins, peso bills, and other related items. Non-members can participate in the bidding and buying of items. I can't believe that there was a half penny coin issued in old times!

Being a philatelic library, there are various stamps from different years and different countries, available for viewing on frames as shown below. 

Ancient typewriters, weighing scale for parcels, and other related equipments are on display at the small museum. Despite its small size, Lawrence mentioned that its the oldest museum in Southeast Asia. Sadly, the artifacts are not well-preserved, like the building that houses it which experience water drips on some parts whenever it rains. 

Then two FSCC members gave a short orientation about philately and history of stamps, the 9 types of stamp collecting, world catalogs of stamps with their market values, and so on. They flashed the black penny, the first postage stamp issued by Great Britain in 1840. It was followed by the brown penny, where some samples were being auctioned that day in the club. Towards the end of the orientation, the club treated us to a simple snack and gave away souvenir stamps.

At past 4:00 pm, we crossed the road to transfer to the Manila Metropolitan Theater, another art deco building designed by Mr. Arellano. Built in 1931, it was the center of performing arts on that era prior to the construction of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It was reconstructed after the 1945 bombings of Manila, then renovated in 1978, but now in abandoned sorry state.

It is dark on many areas of the old theater, as their electricity has almost been cut off, so it is hard to get decent pictures with the absence of lighting. The ballroom, ballet room, dressing and washroom areas of the place are really dilapidated. It is very eerie, and some people say that there are many ghosts haunting its interiors.

The fruit-themed wood ceiling and pre-cast cement carvings like below are some reminders of the theater's grandiose during its heydays.

A "taong grasa" sleeps on one of its side entrances.

Its top floors provide some relief, as they offer panoramic views of downtown Manila's skyline, the Quezon Bridge and Quezon Boulevard.

The LRT 1 line track.

The "Big Ben" of the Manila City Hall.

The spires on top of the theater, plus the dramatic sunset before we left the building.

Our last destination is the Arroceros Park, one of the few remaining forest parks in the city of Manila. It also sits on the edge of the Pasig River. Visitors can see the Ayala bridge on the farther right side of the river, while Quezon bridge can be seen on the left side of the river.

Thanks to Lawrence Chan and the rest of FSCC members for unselfishly promoting the Manila landmarks, before they are forgotten by the next generations during these modern times. I hope that I could join the next tours that will include the Aduana ruins, Puerta Isabel II, Manila Cathedral, and other historical places.

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