The most important tree for Filipinos is the coconut palm tree. In the Philippines, it is referred to as the “Tree of Life”, because the Filipino people are benefitting so much from it. The coconut provides food, fuel and lumber. This is why the Coconut Palace is an important piece of Philippine architecture that was built to honor the humble but very helpful coconut tree.
Also called “Tahanang Pilipino” (Filipino Home), the Coconut Palace is like no other home that has ever been built in the world. It is made completely from coconut lumber and other local Philippine materials. While it is supposed to represent the creativity and resilience of the Filipino people and the nation’s beloved coconut tree, the purpose for its construction and the identities of the people behind said construction do not resonate well with the Filipino people.
It was built by Imelda Marcos, who is most popularly known for her collection of shoes and a penchant for extravagant living, and is also known as the wife of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
Commissioned by the former First Lady, the palace was built in 1978 to house Pope John Paul II when he visited the country in 1981. The Pope, however, rightfully refused to live in this overly lavish palace while visiting a poverty-stricken country. His rejection was a well publicized rebuke to the Marcoses who lived extravagantly while millions of Filipinos existed in deep poverty.
President Marcos was kicked out of the country by the peaceful People’s Power Revolution in 1986, after 20 years of dictatorial presidency.
According to the architect, Francisco Mañosa, construction of the palace cost a whopping Php37,000,000 (and that was in 1978). It has seven luxurious suites that were designed to host international VIPs, which included George Hamilton, Brooke Shields, and Libyan president Muammar al-Gaddafi, to name a few. It also has a library where the Marcos children used to study, a convention room, a huge kitchen, and bedrooms for each of the Marcos family members. Each of the bedrooms is larger and more beautiful than the home of a typical middle-class Filipino family. The former president and First Lady, it should be noted, did not share a room.
Outside is a huge backyard with a swimming pool that extends all the way to Manila Bay. Inside the palace is a beautiful chandelier made from 101 coconut shells. In the palace’s splendid dining room is a huge 24-seat dining table that is ornately designed with 40,000 tiny pieces of inlaid coconut shells.
While it is an architectural achievement, an interesting tourism piece, and a creative showpiece of the wonderful coconut, the Coconut Palace represents, for most locals, the wanton lifestyle of the Marcoses that many Filipinos today do not like to remember. The supposed “Tahanang Filipino” (Filipino Home) is neither a home for them nor a representation of who the Filipino is. That having been said, it is yet something that should be seen by tourists, not just for its beauty but also for the social commentary it provokes to this day.
The Coconut Palace is located between Folk Arts Theater and Sofitel Philippine Plaza at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex, in Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City. Today, it functions as a museum. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, for an admission fee of Php100. Recently, on February 11, 2011, the palace was declared as the official home of the vice president of the Philippines.