Malacañan or Malacañang? 15 facts about the presidential palace

The Malacañang (or Malacañan?) on the banks of the Pasig river

The Malacañan Palace (or should that be Malacañang? — find out later) is the most recognisable building in the Philippines.

Official residence of the president, and his place of work, the palace was one of the few buildings in Manila to emerge largely unscathed from World War Two — making it a living link to the nation’s past.

But how well do you know it? Here are 15 quick facts about the president’s house and office:

1. Nobody is quite sure where the name came from. Some say it was derived from “may lakan diyan” which means “there’s a noble man there”. Others say it was derived from “mamalakaya”, meaning “fishing village”. Alternative derivations are from “malakán” meaning “of the right,” (of the river) or from the Spanish “mala caña”, meaning “evil bamboo”.

2. The complete address of the palace is 1000 Jose P. Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila City, Philippines. (Useful information, if the president is on your Christmas card list.)

3 So, how is it spelt? Well, that depends. Spanish and American colonisers both preferred Malacañan. In 1953 president Ramon Magsaysay changed its name to Malacañang. The original name was restored by president Corazon Aquino in 1986, along with an order to use the term Malacañan — no g — to refer to the official residence of the president and Malacañang — with a g — to describe the office of the president.

4. The largest room in the Palace is The Rizal Ceremonial Hall, also known as The Ballroom. Generally speaking, this is the room you will see on television whenever there is a state dinner, the confirmation of an ambassador or a large formal assembly.

Malacanang Palace 1898
An early photograph of the palace, taken in 1898

5. The Palace was built in 1750 as a private summer house for Don Luis Rocha, a surgeon who bought the land for 425 pesos. In 1802, Colonel Jose Miguel of the Spanish Army bought the property from Rocha for 1,100 Mexican pesos. When Miguel died, it lay idle for a while until it was formally declared an official residence of the Spanish Governor General in 1847. The following year it was christened Campo de Malacañan.

6. Since then it has served as official residence to 63 Spanish, 11 American, and 13 Filipino chief executives.

7. More recently, the official summer residence of the president has been The Mansion in Baguio City, which is located in the high, cool mountains. (It’s worth a visit, see our report here.)

8. The official residence of the vice president of the Philippines is The Coconut Palace, located in Complex in Pasay City, Metro Manila.

9. President Duterte doesn’t live in the Malacañan, saying the palace is a “symbol of oppression” and haunted by ghosts. He lives in the Bahay Pangarap, a guest villa on the south bank of the Pasig River, meaning he has to catch a boat into work every morning. Several other previous presidents have chosen not to live in the main building.

10. One of these ghosts is known as Mr Brown, or Father Brown. According to witnesses, he is a tall, good-looking mestizo who sometimes appears under an old Balete tree in the front yard of the palace. Also, presidential daughter Imee Marcos claimed to see the ghost of President Quezon in the study.

11. No president has ever died in the Palace itself, not even the ailing Marcos who had part of the Palace converted into a personal hospital.

12. The remains of Quezon, Roxas, and Magsaysay — along with those of Osmeña, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos P Garcia, and Diosdado Macapagal — lay in state in the palace.

13. The Marcos family were the Malacañan’s longest-serving tenants, living and working there for 20 years, from December 1965 to February 1986. During this time, first lady Imelda Marcos oversaw substantial work on the palace, including new bedroom suites, bulletproof windows and a discotheque above the much-enlarged presidential bedroom.

Malacañan or Malacañang? 15 facts about the presidential palace
President Nixon of the USA visits president Marcos at the palace in 1969.

14. Over the years the palace has welcomed many of the most important and powerful people in the world. But it was a failed visit by British pop stars The Beatles that ruffled most feathers. In 1966 the Fab Four were in town for a concert, and had been invited to the Malacañan by a star-struck Imelda. However, due to some sort of mix-up, they didn’t receive the invitation, and failed to arrive. An enraged Imelda let her displeasure be known, and so Paul, John, George and Ringo had to sneak out of the Manila Hotel and run for the airport with an angry mob of Marcos supporters hard on their heels.

15. It is possible to visit the Malacañan, but not the main working areas of the palace. Guided tours of the Presidential Museum and Library cost just 50 pesos for adults, and 30 for concessions. To book a time slot (at least 14 days in advance) for your tour, click here.