Inside US Embassy Manila
The US Embassy Manila is the office of the United States of America government in Philippine soil, located just besides the old Dewey Boulevard, now Roxas Boulevard. The Ambassador of the United States to the Philippines makes this as his office, and at the same time this is the first gateway for Filipinos who like to see, study, work, or even live in the US. The US Embassy in Manila is more than just a diplomatic office and a visa entry; it has history to share in the formation of what is now the Philippine Republic.
I got invited by the US Embassy to join Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. for an event celebrating Internet Freedom last March of 2009. It was my second time entering US territory…in the Philippines. My first time was when I was a kid when my dad has an engineering project. The US Embassy in Manila has one of the toughest security measures in the country, given the United States’ prominence in world affairs—no photos are allowed within the premises, nor even take photos outside the compound (reason why I have limited photos here)—except on special permission or areas that are allowed to take photos. Cellphones are also not allowed inside, except with permission coming from the upper management of the embassy.
From US High Commission to US Embassy
When the Philippine Independence Act was signed at Washington DC in 1934, the US government surrendered Malacañang Palace and even The Mansion in Baguio City to the newly-formed Commonwealth government of the Philippines. The US High Commissioner in the Philippines was confronted by the fact that they might squat on someone else’s area. To solve this issue, the US Congress provided the budget for constructing a new office-residence for the High Commissioner. The Philippine Commonwealth gave a 6.9 hectare lot area just beside Manila Bay (back then, that plot of “land” was under Manila Bay!) and gave landfill for the reclamation area. The retaining walls were built by the Americans.
In 1940, the office of the US High Commission and the residence of the high commissioner to the Philippines was completed.
It features a two-storey building built with simple yet elegant architecture—reminiscent of some of the public buildings that were built during the American occupation of the islands. Eight columns flank its façade.
Back then, the top floor served as the US High Commissioner’s residence, while the library and the ballroom area (now Charles Parsons Ballroom) are located at the ground floor. The office on the other hand is located at the south wing of the building.
However, World War 2 broke a year later and the US High Commissioner was evacuated to Corregidor and all the way back to the United States. The Japanese Imperial Forces occupied Manila and made the US High Commission became the Japanese military headquarters in Manila. During that time, the building was unscathed and still functioned.
In 1945 though, “The Liberation” of Manila took a toll on most establishments in Manila, most especially the lives of the people caught in the crossfire between the Allies and the Japanese troops—the US High Commission Building was badly damaged.
Despite the damage it received, the ballroom is still functional. It was here that General Tomoyuki Yamashita (yes, where is your fabled treasure?), Lt. General Masaharu Homma and the rest of the captured Japanese officials have been tried for their war crimes.
At that time, the building was also being restored to its full beauty with additional extensions. The residential area became part of the office. Temporarily, the Quonset huts served as the office until its full restoration was complete.
In 1946, when The Philippines was granted independence, the former US High Commission building became the US Chancery, popularly known to many as the US Embassy in Manila.
The US Embassy in Manila Today
The US Embassy today is compound of buildings that has the privilege to be beside Manila Bay and view the golden sunsets of Manila Bay at Henry Mucci Balcony. I was blessed to have this privilege to see the sunset at the balcony.
The imposing white building is the main building of the US Embassy, also called the US Chancery that was completed in 1940 to serve as the residence and the office of then-US High Commissioner. It was later converted into an Embassy upon The Philippines’ independence.
In 1960s, to accommodate the expanding Embassy staff, the US government constructed the iconic Annex Building in the northern side of the lot. For most Filipinos, this is where their journey to United States starts—in which most visa applications and other consular services were done here up to the early 21st century. Iconic of its time since it has the diamond-shaped patterns criss-crossing the building’s exterior.
Just recently on April 2011, the US$ 50 million new annex building in the southern part of the US Embassy area was opened. This is where now visa applications and other consular services will have its office.
View The US Embassy in Manila in a larger map
The US Embassy in Manila is under the US Department of State. Its presence in the Philippine soil highlights the role and the legacy of the United States in Philippine history, politics, society, and foreign affairs.
Photos from Celebrating Internet Freedom at the US Embassy: