On the eve of Monday, 22 May 2023, smoke billowed from the basement of the Manila Central Post Office in Lawton, Manila. Shortly after, the flame that made the smoke became fire. The fire then spread and crawled its way up the building. Paper, wood, and other materials in the post office served as kindling to feed the fire, which grew it into a roaring blaze. For the next 30 hours, one of Manila’s great landmarks stayed alight, to the horror of eyewitnesses and the citizens of Manila.
I was also saddened by the fire, but it was only later when I realized that I may have had even more reason to be sad about it. I had a package that I was waiting on for over a month at that point, and it turned out that it may have actually been brought to the post office for delivery, just when the fire struck.
NOTE: This video and blog post looks into the post office fire from my perspective. I felt compelled enough to make a video about it due to how circumstances lined up, and I thought it was interesting enough to talk about.
The Manila Central Post Office Fire
As the sun rose on that fateful Monday morning, the building continued to burn. Since it’s a post office, there’s plenty of mail and documents to keep the fire going. It started from the basement, where packages are kept and sorted.
That fire naturally climbed up to the main level, which is mostly a wide open space with a really high ceiling, which may have given the fire plenty of oxygen to sustain it. The back was likely full of mail and documents that were unfortunate enough to be there.
Thirty hours later, they were all rendered ash and the firefighters finally got it down enough to declare fire out.
Seven were hurt and over ₱300 million worth of assets were lost. Maybe if it happened during the day, the fire would’ve been snuffed out early enough. But since it started in the middle of the night, when people finally noticed something burning, it was already too late.
Brief History of the Manila Central Post Office Building
The building was opened in 1926, designed by Juan M. Arellano, Tomas Mapua, and Ralph Harrison Doane in neoclassical style. It was severely damaged during World War II and was rebuilt to its original glory in 1946, 20 years after it was first built.
Then 77 years later, this fire happened. To be fair, compared to being bombed and torn asunder, this post office has gone through worse. But it’s still very sad to watch.
Aftermath of the Fire
Aside from all the mail and packages that are now ash, that also goes for the postal IDs. I last visited this building on January 3 of this year to renew my postal ID. It’s convenient to have an official government-issued ID that isn’t as mission critical as a passport or a driver’s license.
But those are not the only IDs to go up in smoke. This post office was also supposed to process and distribute the new National IDs for the residents of the City of Manila. Those damn things were already taking forever to reach their supposed owners.
Fires in the City of Manila
Manila is quite fire-prone, especially during the dry season. The month of May is the peak of the dry season, with heat index reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius. It gets really hot and sticky around here.
2023 Oroquieta Fire
Just a week before the post office fire, there was an inferno at Oroquieta on 14 May. I could even hear explosions from my room. Over 13 years before, on 12 December 2009, the same area went up in flames.
One of the security guards of our condominium lives there. I asked him if his family was okay, and he said they were. His voice was that of routine acceptance, like it’s just a part of life there.
According to him, when he looked out of their front door amid the first signs of panic, the skies were already red. There was no time to think, they just got out of there with only the clothes on their backs. They couldn’t bring anything else with them but their lives.
The recurrence naturally makes for conspiracy theories, that it’s routine in Manila for various reasons, from repeated attempts to drive out residents and free the land for development, to insurance fraud, and so on.
It’s no different with the post office. After the fire, this article went momentarily viral on Facebook. Apparently, it could be turned into a luxury hotel. However, I have my doubts about those claims as the piece was published 11 years ago, which meant whatever talks the Philippine government had with Fullerton Singapore for that deal didn’t really go anywhere.
Besides, it isn’t really a good location for a luxury hotel. It’s Pasig River, after all.
My Hypothesis on What Caused the Post Office Fire
Meanwhile, I have my own hypothesis on how the fire started. As stated, the basement was where packages were kept. One of those packages must’ve had electronics in them that were powered by lithium ion batteries.
Those electronics may have had a short, which set off the batteries. If you’ve seen a lithium ion battery fire before, you know it doesn’t just blow up; it continuously spurts chemical fire and burns whatever is in the way.
That’s just my hypothesis. Investigations on the actual cause of fire are still underway, and I’m not sure if they’ll actually come forward with their findings.
Waiting for My Package
Over a month before, I had ordered stuff from LTTStore.com — namely the screwdriver, 40oz water bottle, and a 900×300 Northern Lights desk pad. It wasn’t cheap, which was why I desperately wanted that delivery to arrive.
When I bought headsets from Amazon last February, they arrived here from Indiana within a week because Jeff Bezos has his company operating with supervillain levels of efficiency. Employees can’t even pee or poop on company time without taking a pay cut.
This package from LTTStore was going to take a while, and it didn’t help that it went the other way. I thought it was going to cross the Pacific Ocean since that seems like the logical path from British Columbia. However, it actually went eastward, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, entered Germany, then crossed the same lands Genghis Khan conquered 800 years ago.
A month later, it finally arrived in the Philippines. It was then cleared by customs and was stamped to then be brought to the delivery office. Since I live in Manila, it was going to be the Manila Central Post Office.
It got approved and marked enroute to the delivery office on Friday, 19 May. Obviously, there’s no work on the 20th and 21st of May since that’s the weekend. The fire happened on the eve of 22 May, just before midnight.
If my package got sent there right away on Friday, it was likely immolated like a dead body in a crematorium. It may have been rendered ash by this point.
I called PHLPost, and they told me that there was a chance that it may not have been sent to Manila Central Post Office yet since they tend to do so a day after approval. They then gave me the number to SMED — the Surface Mail Exchange Department, located at Port Area.
None of those numbers worked. I couldn’t get in touch with SMED, and I called multiple times throughout multiple days.
But then, on the morning of 24 May — three days after the fire — I was woken up by the doorbell. It was a postman. My package arrived.
I don’t know if that was a miracle or a fortunate result of… inefficiency.
Seems like such an inconsequential thing to be excited about amid the razing of a historical landmark, but that’s how I’ll remember this event. I take this as a silver lining.
The probable future of the Manila Central Post Office is that it’ll likely be renovated and reopened. The building has been through worse throughout its long history. Despite having burned down, you can tell that it still looks beautiful, so it’d be a waste not to rebuild it.
But the thing with old heritage buildings throughout Manila is that they’re being torn down. We could use some hope for a change — hope for the preservation of what gives the City of Manila its character. Then again, they already gave up on keeping the skies clear for the national hero. If the money is just right for them to give more up, they certainly will.
However, this building is too prominent to tear down. It wasn’t a dilapidated structure; it was still a functioning part of government and public service.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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