Manila, Philippines – They were silent witnesses to history, once ferrying the country’s most powerful. Now, they have found a permanent home in Quezon City.
The 12 vehicles which serviced 13 Philippine presidents are now on display in the country’s first and only Presidential Car Museum at Quezon Memorial Circle.
Formally opened on Sunday, the 3,000-sq-m gallery was a longtime project spearheaded by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
Before being put on display, the vehicles manufactured by different automobile makers, including Chrysler and Cadillac, were carefully restored to their original condition, down to minute details.
These include President Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1924 Packard Single-6 Touring and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 1993 Mercedes-Benz S600 Limousine V140.
The museum, however, did not include President Sergio
Osmeña’s service vehicle which remained in Cebu province and that of President Carlos P. Garcia, which was never recovered.
The 1959 Cadillac Sedan
DeVille of President Diosdado Macapagal, meanwhile, was only a model replica, according to the NHCP.
The vehicle assigned to President Benigno Aquino III was also not showcased since it remained in use.
Also on display in the museum were four vehicles that, though not used as presidential service vehicles, were chosen for their historical value.
One of these was the 1934 Cadillac V16 Transformable Town Car Cabriolet initially owned by President Manuel Quezon before it was turned over to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Not just a luxury vehicle
Rene Escalante, NHCP chair, said the cars should not simply be seen as luxury vehicles.
“It is an artefact, a national patrimony, an icon of history and the legacy of the person who used it,” he said. “It also reveals the sociopolitical and economic situation of an era and the level of privacy and security afforded to former presidents,” Escalante added.
Relatives of the country’s former leaders expressed hope that their family’s precious memorabilia would encourage more Filipinos to learn more about the presidency and those who once held the post.
Angelo Aguinaldo, a fourth-generation descendant of Aguinaldo, said the president acquired the 1924 Packard Six—one of the top luxury car brands during that era—after his presidency.
“We heard stories from his driver that they took this car on long rides to Taal, Batangas province, the hometown of his second wife Maria Agoncillo,” he said in an interview.
Angelo said the cars reflected the way of life of certain generations, including that of the people who once held the country’s highest position.
“These are very valuable because these are mute witnesses to our heroes, to the way they lived and thought,” he said.
Standing out among the sleek black cars was a two-door 1943 Willys Jeep, the personal vehicle of President Ramon Magsaysay.
One of the earliest 4×4 vehicles, the military jeep was a gift from MacArthur after the Second World War.
Reflection of Magsaysay
Zambales Vice Gov. Angel Magsaysay-Cheng, Magsaysay’s grandchild, said the vehicle was a reflection of the former president’s simple life. Magsaysay’s official car was a 1955 Cadillac series 75-23.
She said the jeep used to be kept in the storage area of her dad, Vicente, and it took some time before the family agreed to turn it over to NHCP because of its sentimental value.
“This jeep signifies how he was: very simple, very spot-on regular guy,” she told the Inquirer, adding that the vehicle was Magsaysay’s favorite, as he was a mechanic. “It’s so open, that is how he was…. He wanted to be with his people.”
Museum curator Ryan Tan said the museum presented a perfect opportunity for the youth to see the vehicles for themselves.
“There are many stories from our history that cannot simply be read in textbooks,” he said. “These cars can also show what and how our leaders were like.”
Luxury car for Marcos
Tan said the most luxurious vehicle in the gallery was the 1960 Rolls-Royce Phantom V, owned by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, the only presidential spouse to have her own car on display.
It was one of the only 516 units produced by Rolls-Royce. It has a back storage space for wine and champagne bottles, including four crystal champagne flutes and a built-in humidor for Cuban cigars.
Tan said the car was a gift from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to his wife. His car was a 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark VI Signature Series, which he reportedly favored due to its spacious interior.
The Presidential Car Museum is open free of charge to the public from Tuesdays to Sundays, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.