Restore or build new?

Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, a blaze that raged late Sunday until early morning Monday had reduced the iconic Manila Central Post Office to a blackened shell of its heretofore majestic neoclassical self.

Serving as the main office of the Philippine Postal Corporation, the Central Post Office housed the main mail sortation and distribution center of the country while standing along the Pasig River in front of Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

The original building was constructed in 1926 based on the design of Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapua but had to be restored in 1946 after it was damaged like most buildings in Manila during the city’s liberation from Japanese forces at the end of the World War 2.

Eerily, photos taken of the fire-hit Central Post Office yesterday looked just like colorized versions of black-and-white pictures of it after the war — its imposing columns intact but burnt.

With the advent of email and digital communications, both the Central Post Office and the Philippine Postal Corporation may have turned into white elephants with the diminishing relevance of the so-called snail mail coursed through brick-and-mortar post offices.

The fire that engulfed the building may, therefore, be seen by some as a clear sign that the country must not be sentimentally attached to the vestiges of the past, and for it to embrace a more modern world.

Retrofitting may not do the trick to salvage a building weakened not only by the fire but by the passing of nearly eight decades since its 1946 rebuilding. Doing that may put in danger the people who would work or transact business there.

Certainly, we’d soon hear proposals for the space being occupied by the Central Post Office to be repurposed instead of being reserved for another costly restoration of the structure with questionable use.

This would certainly raise a howl of protest from heritage advocates with the building being declared by the government in 2018 as an “important cultural property” of the country.

We will hear the same protestations that greeted the demolition of the historic Insular Life Building, the Jai Alai Fronton, and the Santa Cruz Building, all in Manila.

The demolition of historical buildings has been met with widespread criticism from people who argue that such structures play important roles in preserving the country’s history and culture.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to demolish a historical building or to restore it, as in the case of the Central Post Office, is a difficult one. Whatever that decision would be, the Philippine Postal Corporation will have to go on surviving despite diminishing revenues, in the same vein that postal offices around the world have been trying to keep their heads above water.

Other than distributing official government communications, the PPC will have to compete more aggressively with private sector enterprises offering bill payments and money transfers.

The PPC, under newly appointed Postmaster General Luis Carlos, will have to reinvent itself to stave off insignificance.

But has the time come to write off the Manila Central Office as a historical building that serves as an example of Philippine architecture and history? Maybe not.

It is a reminder of the country’s colonial past and its early years of independence. The building is also a testament to the resilience of the Filipino people, who rebuilt it after it was destroyed after the war.

The Central Post Office is a valuable asset not only to the City of Manila and its people, but also to all Filipinos. It is a symbol of the city’s history and culture and a popular tourist destination, thereby a boost to the local economy.

Read more Daily Tribune stories at:

Follow us on social media
Facebook: @tribunephl
Youtube: TribuneNow
Twitter: @tribunephl
Instagram: @tribunephl
TikTok: @dailytribuneofficial