At the initiative of Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison, the Executive Building at Malacañan Palace was built to accommodate the offices of the chief executive of the land. It was designed by the American consulting architect Ralph Harrington Doane and constructed by the Bureau of Public Works under the supervision of architect Tomas Mapua. The pre-cast ornamentation and carved wooden interiors were executed by the famous sculptors Isabelo Tampinco and Graciano Nepomuceno. Completed in 1920-1921, the building was first given full use by Harrison’s successor, Governor-General Leonard Wood, and it subsequently bore witness to many meetings, events and acts significant to the era of the American occupation of the Philippines and which furthered Filipino aspirations of self-government and independence.
In 1935, after the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, President Manuel L. Quezon, the first official Filipino resident of Malacañan Palace, held formal office in this building together with Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Executive Secretary Jorge Vargas, other senior administration officials, assistants, technical advisors and liaison officers—such as then Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, military liaison between the president and Commonwealth Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur. In 1937, President Quezon, as part of his plans for the expansion and embellishment of the seat of the presidency, enlarged the building and its facilities by constructing new offices for the president and vice president and rooms for the meetings of the cabinet and Council of State on what were formerly open-air terraces on the second floor of the east and west wings of the building, and in the second floor of the central portion of the building what were originally guest bedroom suites were also converted into offices. The architect, Juan Arellano, faithfully replicated the original American-era lines and motifs in the exterior and Vidal Tampinco executed the ornamentation of the interiors.
This arrangement, during which the executive building was considered the principal official building of the Malacañan Palace complex, generally served over the subsequent presidencies of Jose P. Laurel, Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino and Ramon Magsaysay. Commencing with the administrations of Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal, however, the president himself was rarely seen to hold office and receive visitors in the building personally, but rather in the adjoining palace proper. The climax of this process would occur under President Ferdinand E. Marcos, but not without significant changes to the building. In the early 1970s, the offices in the central portion of the second floor were demolished and the entire space transformed into a large hall at the initiative of first lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos to serve ceremonies of the state and other important and large events that rooms of the adjoining old palace could no longer accommodate. It also served on at least one occasion as a hospital ward for typhoon victims. This new hall together with the entire building was renamed Maharlika Hall. At the same time, much of the ground floor was given over to a new presidential library containing large collections of books, documents and collectibles.
After the rebuilding of the adjoining palace in 1978-79, which included the addition of the new and spacious ceremonial hall (now Rizal Hall), Maharlika Hall lost its role as the central official hub of the Malacañan Palace complex and ceded its prominence in public lift to the newly-reconstructed mansion. In ensuing years, administrative offices were transferred to the administration building (now Mabini Hall) or elsewhere, and meetings of the cabinet, which could no longer fit in the modestly-sized rooms built in the 1930s, were held in the state dining room of the palace. Thus, while the presidential library continued to occupy much of the ground floor and the hall on the second floor was used for occasional events such as barangay assemblies, the rest of the building was given over to presidential media and security facilities and staff as well as used for storage space. In the process, many of the original features, ornamentation and fixtures of the building were concealed, modified, damaged or lost.
After the EDSA People Power Revolution in February, 1986, the culmination of which took place in front of this building after the last public appearance in the Philippines of President Marcos on the second floor north balcony and the subsequent storming of the palace gates by supporters of political change and the restoration of democracy, Maharlika Hall was renamed Kalayaan Hall by President Corazon C. Aquino in honor of the people’s triumphant movement for freedom. From this time and over the subsequent administrations of Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the building almost wholly served as facilities for the Office of the Press Secretary and the Malacañang Press Corps. After 2001, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, recognizing both the historic importance of the old Executive Building as well as the significance of the long and rich institutional heritage of Malacañan Palace and the Philippine presidency, reestablished in Kalayaan Hall a museum that would be accessible to the general public as well as official visitors and guests, and the same time ordered the restoration of the structure, its rooms, fixtures and furnishings.
Thus, Kalayaan Hall, one of the most historically distinguished of the buildings that comprise the Malacañan Palace complex, continues here at the heart of the seat of the Philippine presidency as a tangible monument to a unique legacy that belongs to each and every Filipino.