Located along Manila Bay, the Coconut Palace is an impressive structure built entirely of coconut lumber and other Philippine products. Currently, the palace is closed to the public and no longer holds tours. However, I was able to go way back in 2013. It’s a really interesting landmark and I’m hoping that it will again open its gates for the public soon since it’s a gorgeous site both inside and out.
The Coconut Palace has a storied past dating back to the time of the Marcos era. Then, it served as the Marcoses’ VIP guest house. And more recently, it was occupied by then Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The extravagant palace was originally built to accommodate Pope John Paul II on his official visit to the country. But when he arrived, he refused accommodations at the lavish structure. Knowing the Marcoses, they may not have taken that sleight lightly. Still, the equally extravagant cost of building the palace amidst a woefully eventful time period has made it one of the most controversial buildings in the country.
Although there are no tours currently, I learned a lot from our 30 minute tour in 2013. Most of what I will share is what was taught to us by our helpful and jolly tour guide. We were escorted from the entrance of the palace, to the rooms, and out again. So there wasn’t any opportunity to explore on our own. In some rooms, you’re allowed to take pictures. So I was lucky to take what pictures of the interior that I do have. Our current vice president, Leni Robredo, didn’t opt to live in the Coconut Palace. So hopefully, since there is no high profile guest staying there, they’ll be open to tours once again. Back then, it was Php100 (well spent!) for the full guided tour. If they can open it again, hopefully, the fees go to maintaining and preserving the craftsmanship that makes the Coconut Palace an exceptional landmark in the Manila landscape.
The entire palace was built with coconut-derived materials such as artificially-enhanced coconut lumber. The lowly, common plant was shaped and molded to become this wonder of Filipino architecture. There is something really inspiring about that, as though the very material it was made with is to send the message that if we people can be as flexible and versatile as the coconut tree, then we can also achieve great heights. It’s just a shame that the luxurious grandeur with which it was made was such a stark contrast to the living conditions of its public.
The palace was built in a way seemingly as though it is wrapping the large swimming pool. Its landscape features shapely greenery that might have looked as well-kept as the structure it was meant to compliment back in its heyday. Even we weren’t given time to wander around the grounds, considering a high profile guest, then-Vice President Jejomar Binay was occupying the palace at the time.
All around the palace, you will find high quality hardwood furniture and other materials, all coming from different Philippine provinces. The windows are made of capiz. The palace really showcases the beauty and unique qualities of the Philippine provinces. There have been additions of artworks by local artists as well, decorating every nook and cranny of the palace, from adorning the walls to decorating the bed posts.
On the upper floor, there are seven themed rooms each named after a Philippine province. Furniture and ambience are inspired by the respective provinces they are named after.The rooms are as follows: Zamboanga Room, Pampanga Room, Marawi Room, Bicol Room, Mountain Province Room, Iloilo Room, Pangasinan Room.
Media-shy presidential guests and high profile visitors would be treated to one of the unique rooms. There are tales of guests each having favorite rooms. The Marcoses themselves enjoyed staying at the artful palace. Many of the rooms feature hexagonal shapes and there are seven rooms after the lucky number of the Marcoses. Imelda favored the Bicol Room for its view of the Manila Bay. Ferdinand favored the Pangasinan room with its detailed design and large bathroom. The bedsheets in every room is made of jusi, pineapple, or banana fibers. The Mountain Province Room is also very special as it houses tribal antiques that help illustrate the Philippines’ proud past. The lavish architecture and design of each room, and their furniture will have you poking into every nook and cranny just to see more of the elegant finery exhibited in each room. Surely, you’ll wish you were one of who gets to stay there when you see the interiors of the rooms.
A tour to remember
Looking back now, I feel so lucky that I was able to experience the tour back when it was open to the public. And with the cultural significance it has to our country, I don’t doubt that its doors may open again.
The Coconut Palace is rightly called “Tahanang Pilipino”. It’s a symbol of the best that the Philippines has to offer, but also the worst that human corruption can get to.
It also showcases the many uses of Filipino products beyond our lowly perspective of them. The creative use of coconut, the “Tree of Life” shows both the ingenious imagination of the Filipino people to be able to make use of anything.
Now, the closest you can get to the Coconut Palace is from the road, a bit far away. If you have the time, having a look at the external structure is already awe-inspiring. Although visitors won’t be able to go inside, if you like, you can still take pictures outside and have a look at the front of the palace.
Just knowing the history of this cultural landmark makes seeing it in person even more captivating. If it gets more interest, it might not be long before the tours are resumed. I’d personally want to go again.
Among former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ ceramic collections