Historic Manila Central Post Office ‘totally burned’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — The Manila Central Post Office is now "totally burned" following the fire that hit the building late Sunday, Bureau of Fire Protection-National Capital Region (BFP-NCR) Director Chief Superintendent Nahum Tarroza said on Monday.

"Totally burned po lahat ang ating structure natin. Hundred percent ito...Talagang nakakalungkot dahil may kalumaan ito. Isa ito sa kasaysayan natin, itong building. Pero talagang 'di namin kinaya. Kailangan talaga ito ma-preserve na 'yung structure na lang niya," Tarroza said.

[Translation: The structure is totally burned. This is 100%. This is truly saddening because the building is old. It is part of our history. But we really couldn't handle it. The structure needs to be preserved.]

The Manila Fire Station said the fire started in the post office's basement past 11 p.m. Sunday. It was placed on the highest fire alarm level, which is general alarm, at 5:54 a.m. Monday. The fire was declared under control past 7 a.m. Firefighters still continue to extinguish the fire.

According to the BFP, the fire spread easily due to the materials that make up the rooms such as wood.

Postmaster General Luis Carlos said mail from Manila that will be sent to provinces and internationally are affected. This also includes national IDs.

As of Tuesday morning, a total of 15 people were reported hurt in the fire, including 11 members of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), one volunteer, and one civilian.

Most of them incurred friction burns, while some experienced chest pain, headache, and dizziness. They were all treated at the site, according to the BFP.

"May mga difficulty of breathing, may natapilok, may nasugatan lang, laceration, pero hindi naman po siya life-threatening," Tarroza said Monday.

[Translation: Some have difficulty breathing, some tripped, some were wounded, have laceration, but it is not life-threatening.]

BFP added that at least two structures were burned, with estimated cost of damages reaching ₱300 million.

NCCA ready to assist in repair

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) expressed regret that the Post Office, a designated Important Cultural Property (ICP), had been damaged by fire.

In 2018, the National Museum declared the Manila Post Office Building as an ICP, which means it has exceptional cultural, artistic, and historical significance to the country and eligible to receive government funding for its protection, conservation, and restoration.

"Kasama ang mga sangay pang-kultura at iba pang tanggapan ng pamahalaan, handa pong tumulong ang NCCA sa abot ng aming kakayahan hindi lamang sa pag-ayos ng nasirang gusali, kundi maging sa pagbabalik ng normal na operasyon ng Philippine Postal Corporation (PHLPost)," the NCCA said in a statement.

[Translation: Together with the cultural branches and other government offices, the NCCA is ready to assist, to the best of our ability, not only in the repair of the damaged building, but also in the return of normal operations of the Philippine Postal Corporation]

The PHLPost said it will temporarily move its operations to Delpan Port Area, Manila.

The neo-classical building at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila was designed by architects Tomas Mapua, Juan Marcos Arellano and Ralph Doane, according to the PHLPost. It was rebuilt in 1946 after having been severely damaged during World War II.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' The Final Word, NCCA executive director Oscar Casaysay said all materials to be used for the rebuilding and rehabilitation of the historic architectural piece should be thoroughly considered.

Senate inquiry sought

Sen. Robin Padilla on Monday filed Senate Resolution 627, directing a Senate inquiry into the fire that gutted the iconic post office, as he underscored the need to enhance preservation and protection measures for the country's cultural properties.

"This recent incident underscores the vulnerability of our national cultural heritage to fire and other hazards and highlights the urgent need to revisit and assess the effectiveness of existing preservation and protection measures," he said in his resolution.

In a statement, Sen. Loren Legarda urged authorities to investigate the cause of the fire to avoid similar incidents.

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

Echoing Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Sonny Angara said lawmakers should work with the Department of Budget and Management in looking for funds for the restoration of the historic building.

CNN Philippines correspondent Daniza Fernandez contributed to this story.