Fire guts Manila Post Office; lawmakers seek quick rehab

FIRE gutted the Manila Central Post Office, one of the oldest structures in the Philippine capital, according to the local fire bureau.

The fire started before midnight on Sunday and firefighters only managed to contain it more than seven hours after, the Bureau of Fire Protection said in a Facebook post on Monday.

It caused about P300 million in damage, Manila Mayor Maria Sheilah Lacuna–Pangan told an online news briefing. Building another structure on the lot is out of the question because the area is a national heritage zone, she added.

“You cannot just build another building in the post office’s place,” she said in Filipino. “The local government of Manila will work with the National Government to restore the Manila Central Post Office.”

The Philippine Postal Corp. (PhilPost) said in a statement it was working with the fire bureau to determine the cause of the blaze. No deaths were reported.

Clients may still send their mail and packages to nearby post offices in Manila and other parts of Metro Manila, it said.

“We express grief and are saddened by this unfortunate incident,” Postmaster General Luis D. Carlos said. “We didn’t expect this to happen, but we assure the public that all PhilPost branches will be business as usual.”

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said some of the national IDs that were due for delivery in Manila had been damaged by the fire.

It is coordinating with the post office to determine the exact number of IDs affected by the fire, PSA Undersecretary and National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said in a statement.

The National Museum in 2018 declared the country’s oldest post office as an important cultural property. The label is given to properties with “exceptional cultural, artistic, and/or historical significance” to the country.

It is the second-highest level of protection next to the national cultural treasure, which is given by the National Museum and National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

The post office was rebuilt in 1946 after it was severely damaged during World War II.

Meanwhile, lawmakers sought the immediate rehabilitation of the post office using emergency funds.

“The fire that hit this national historical landmark is undoubtedly a certifiable disaster,” Batangas Rep. Ralph G. Recto said in a statement.

The government could use the president’s P13-billion contingency fund, he said, adding that the P19.03-billion calamity fund from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) could also be used.

Mr. Recto said under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, national historical landmarks, sites or monuments are entitled to “priority government funding for protection, conservation and restoration.”

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara, who heads the finance committee, tweeted that he would work with the Budget department in looking for funds to help restore the Manila Central Post Office.

“I call on our authorities to investigate the cause of the fire so that this occurrence will never happen again,” Senator Lorna Regina “Loren” B. Legarda said in a separate statement. “We must protect our historical sites such as this significant architectural inheritance.”

Senator Robin C. Padilla also filed a resolution seeking to probe the fire “with the aim of revisiting and strengthening policies for the preservation and protection of cultural properties against fire and other hazards.”

“The Manila Central Post Office is a tangible representation of the nation’s culture and history, and its damage is a blow to the country’s cultural heritage,” he said.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. called the incident “a national tragedy that the government should address by funding its repair, rehabilitation and restoration so that it can continue to serve as a beautiful monument to our nation’s history.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Beatriz Marie D. Cruz