A huge fire destroyed the historic post office in Manila late Sunday night, causing an estimated P300 million in damage.
More than 80 fire trucks were sent to the decades-old landmark after the blaze broke out, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) said.
Thick, black smoke billowed hundreds of meters into the sky as flames gutted the neo-classical Manila Central Post Office that overlooks the Pasig River.
It took firefighters more than seven hours to get the inferno under control.
“The whole building has burned down from the basement all the way to the fifth floor,” Postmaster General Luis Carlos told DZBB radio.
The fire broke out Sunday evening and reached the first alarm at 11:41 p.m. It escalated to general alarm, or its highest fire alarm level, at 5:54 a.m. on Monday and was declared under control at 7:22 a.m.
The cause of the blaze was being investigated, he said.
Fire brigades from across the capital deployed personnel to fight the blaze that injured 11—nine firefighters, one volunteer, and a civilian. Damage from the fire is estimated to reach around P300 million.
Designed by architects Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapua, the Manila Central Post Office was built in 1926 and was once considered the “grandest building” in Manila, according to its website.
It was destroyed in World War II as US forces recaptured the capital from Japanese occupation forces, and was rebuilt in 1946.
The Philippine National Museum declared the building an “important cultural property” in 2018.
Letters, parcels, and the postal agency’s entire stamp collection were in the building and are likely destroyed, Carlos said, adding that they were looking at indemnity for burned parcels.
Mark Laurente, chief of staff of the postmaster general said the fire started in the basement storage rooms.
Structural engineers will assess the integrity of the building to determine if it should be repaired or condemned.
The Philippine Statistics Authority said it is coordinating with the Philippine Postal Corporation (PHLPost) regarding the PhilIDs that may have been destroyed in the fire.
Based on the initial reports from PHLPost, an undetermined number of national IDs that were supposed to be delivered in Manila were destroyed in the fire. The PSA said it would replace all affected IDs without charging the registered persons.
In the next few days, the Manila Central Post Office operations will be moved to the Foreign Surface Mail Distribution Center (FSMDC) building, Carlos said.
The corporate offices will be housed at the building beside the burned post office and at the canteen area, he added.
Manila Mayor Honey Lacuña said the city would coordinate with the national government to restore the gutted post office.
Senator Robin Padilla called for a congressional inquiry into the fire “with the aim of revisiting and strengthening policies for the preservation and protection of cultural properties against fire and other hazards.”
“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.
“It is of public interest to provide policies that will prevent or mitigate the effect of fire and other hazards to protect and preserve our national cultural heritage,” he added.
“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.
House Deputy Speaker and Batangas City Rep. Ralph Recto on Monday called for the immediate reconstruction of the post office.
“Government should rebuild the National Post Office Building. Fast, and not in slow mail fashion,” Recto said in a statement.
“The post office is an art work designed and built by Filipino geniuses. It was an architectural jewel of the bygone Pearl of the Orient,” he added.
He noted that, under Republic Act (RA)10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, “national historical landmarks, sites or monuments” will be entitled to “priority government funding for protection, conservation and restoration.”
He added that the P13-billion contingent fund and P19.03-billion calamity fund could both be tapped for the purpose of rebuilding the post office.
Recto said businesses can also help in reconstruction, and their donations are considered as allowable deductions from gross income in the computation of the income tax.
Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. on Monday urged the Philippine Postal Corporation to do its best to reach out to individuals concerned whose mails packages were destroyed in the fire.
“While it is heartbreaking to see the extent of the damage sustained by the Manila Central Post Office, my heart also goes out to our countrymen whose communications, correspondence, or valuables were lost in today’s fire,” Abante said in a statement.
“I urge the Philippine Postal Corporation to exert all efforts possible to identity and to reach out to all the individuals whose mail or packages can no longer be recovered,” Abante said.
“The Manila Central Post Office will require resources, financial and otherwise, to be properly rebuilt,” he said. “I commit to join this effort and to work with my fellow legislators and coworkers in government to ensure that the Manila Central Post Office is restored to its former glory.” With Julito G. Rada and AFP