Ayuntamiento de Manila: On its 4th incarnation since 1571

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Editor's Note: This is a companion piece for a three-part report on the renovation of the Ayuntamiento de Manila by Fiona Nicolas for 9News, which is now CNN Philippines. The first part aired on Network News on Monday, February 16, 2015.

(CNN Philippines) — Having been around for centuries, the Ayuntamiento de Manila has gone through several episodes of destruction and reconstruction. Actually, there have been four ayuntamientos, including the present one – each built on the same site.

The Spanish conquistadores started work on the first building for the Ayuntamiento, which was the Spanish colonial municipal council, in 1599.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who founded the city on June 24, 1571, had already laid out plans for the core of what would become Intramuros, the walled capital of the Philippines.

But it was only in 1599, during the time of Governor-General Francisco Tello, that work started on the building, which was inaugurated in 1607.

"The houses of the cabildo, located on the square, are built of stone. They are very sightly and have handsome halls. On the ground floor is the prison, and the court of the alcaldes-in-ordinary," according to Antonio de Morga in his History of the Philippines – that is, the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, as translated by E.H. Blair and J.A. Robertson.

The Ayuntamiento was – and still is – at the corner of Calle Aduana (now Andres Soriano Street) and Cabildo Street at the Plaza de Roma.

Being the plaza mayor - the main square of the walled city – that was also were the Spaniards, following the usual custom, built the church – the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción de María, or simply the Manila Cathedral – and the main government building – the Palacio del Gobernador.

Despite its name, the Palacio has no governor living in it, but it now houses the Commission on Elections.

Note that the Spaniards chose simple descriptive names for the streets: Aduana merely means customs and Cabildo is just another word for council.

Since its completion, several quakes had damaged the building.

In 1735, a new building was built, which was completed in 1738. This survived until June 3, 1863, when a strong quake damaged it heavily.

In 1879, the government commissioned architect Eduardo Lopez Navarro to design a third structure. But construction was a stop-and-go process because of more earthquakes and several other hitches.

The Ayuntamiento – which early in the 20th century became known as the Marble Palace – was the venue of several historic events.

In 1907, the Philippine Assembly, under the American colonial regime, started meeting there, with Sergio Osmeña as its first speaker.

In 1912, it was where the remains of Jose Rizal, who was executed by the Spaniards in 1896, lay in state before being transferred to his monument at the park that now bear his name.

As the website of the Official Gazette related in its "The Centenary of the Rizal Monument":

"On December 29, 1912, a solemn ceremony was held to finally bury Rizal’s remains at the base of the monument that would soon rise in his honor. His remains been stored in an ivory urn kept in Narcisa Rizal’s house in Binondo since their exhumation on August 17, 1898. Before this, they lay in a grave in Paco Cemetery, marked only by a marble plaque with the hero’s initials in reverse. On December 30, 1912, after a funeral procession and a 'lying in-state' at the Ayuntamiento de Manila, the urn bearing Rizal’s remains was brought back to Luneta. Thus: A year after the reinternment – more than twelve years since the enactment Act No. 243, and seventeen years to the day of his death – the monument to Rizal was unveiled."

The Ayuntamiento itself would itself be a casualty of another historic event – the Liberation of Manila that reduced it, once again, to rubble.

For decades, the Ayuntamiento remained in ruins, part of housing the incinerator of the Central Bank where old paper money was disposed of, as Jaime Laya, a former governor of that institution, wrote in his column in the Manila Bulletin ("Historic Marble Hall gleams again," which was last updated on January 20, 2014).

The Bureau of the Treasury, to which the building was transferred, began its reconstruction in 2009. It started holding office there in 2010. But restoration work, done by the DDT Konstract, Inc., continued – under some controversy because of project delays.

The reconstruction and renovation, completion of which was scheduled for 2011, was finally finished in 2014 – at a cost of at least P1.2 billion.