Arts & Culture

The Phrase 'Mabilis Pa sa Alas Kwatro' Came From an Old Manila Ice Plant's Daily Siren

"Mabilis pa sa alas kwatro" dates back to the 1900s.

Photography: Public Domain


Ikaw talaga, hindi ka mautusan, pero pagdating sa lakwatsa, mabilis ka pa sa alas kwatro!”

(“You can’t be relied on with chores, but when it comes to gallivanting, you’re faster than four o’clock!”)

You’ve probably heard the phrase “mabilis pa sa alas kwatro” when someone was being scolded for wanting to leave quickly in pursuit of some kind of leisure. The phrase actually dates back to the American colonial era in the Philippines and referred to the four o’clock siren of the Insular Ice Plant in Manila.

According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, the ice plant sounded three times every day: At seven o’clock to signal the start of work, at 12 noon to signal lunch break, and at four o’clock to signal the end of the day’s work.

At the time, the ice plant’s four o’clock siren became an institution that announced not only the end of the day for the plant’s workers but for the rest of Manila. Ocampo explains the city, at that time, was relatively quieter, and the blaring siren would be heard throughout the city signaling the end of the workday.


It so happened that unscrupulous workers at the time would already queue up for the exit minutes before the four o’clock chimed. Their American superiors observed this, noting, “These Filipinos are faster than the four o’clock siren!”

Recommended Videos

The phrase caught on and eventually passed into Filipino lingo. These days, “Mabilis pa sa alas kwatro” is used to reprehend someone who neglects responsibilities but shows eagerness in the pursuit of pleasures.

The Ice Plant That Birthed ‘Mabilis pa sa Alas Kwatro’

The Insular Ice and Cold Storage Plant or simply Insular Ice Plant was an ice production and storage facility in Manila, Philippines. It was built in 1902, a mere four years after the Philippine Revolution. At the time, it was considered a state-of-the-art facility. The colonial government in Manila had to ask the U.S. Congress to approve its construction for the sake of “comfort supplies” deemed essential to the American troops: cold beverages.


According to researcher Marlyne Sahakian, the ice plant was one of the first permanent structures built in the Philippines by the Americans. It was designed by Edgar K. Bourne following the Mission-Revival architectural style at the time.

Its 10-storey smokestack became Manila’s most prominent landmark. Sadly, it was destroyed in World War II, leaving only the smokestack. The ruins were left untouched until the 1980s when it was removed by the government to give way for the construction of the Light Rail Transit.


* * *

Have you recently spruced up your room or renovated your home? We'd definitely love to see the result! Send clear photos (with your full name, city address, and accompanying kuwento) to [email protected] with the subject "DIY Makeover" and we may just feature your DIY project!

Real Living is now on Quento! Click here to download the app on Android and IOS, and enjoy more articles and videos from us and your other favorite websites!


* * *


This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

More on


Read more stories about

Latest Stories

From Php15K to Zero Monthly Electric Bill: How This Homeowner Makes the Most of Solar Panels

He shares that in a tropical country like the Philippines, opting for solar power is a worthy investment

This Vacation Farm in Laguna Features 5 Charming Tiny Houses

Keep Top Mount Farm in mind for your next family or barkada trip!

Where to Stay in the Metro: 10 Airbnbs Under P2,500 For Your Next Staycation

These cozy accommodations offer a dose of design inspiration, too!

6 Ideas to Design a House with a Rooftop

If you're planning on redesigning your rooftop space, or just about to design a house that has one, here are some ways you can maximize your space

Interior Designers Unmask Trendsetting Furniture at MasKAREde Ball

The event also highlighted KARE's eclectic mix of furniture, lighting, accessories, and gifting pieces

7 Design Ideas for a Two-Storey House

Need some fresh ideas as you design your house? These space-saving plans will help you get the most out of your two-storey build

Bungalow House Design Tips and Tricks to Maximize Space

Make the most out of your bungalow's space by applying these small-home ideas

Modern House Design Ideas for a Sleek New Home

Planning to go modern for your new home? Here are 5 modern home styles to jumpstart your ideas.

You Can Book This Mediterranean-Inspired Villa in Bulacan For Your Next Getaway

Get a couple of design ideas during your stay, too!

This Idyllic Bahay Kubo in Silang, Cavite Promotes Sustainability

The Understory offers an intimate farm-to-table dining experience

A Modern Rustic Retirement Home in San Juan

Space Project Interior Design Services used Venetian plaster and wooden touches to create a haven that's sleek yet inviting

A Scandi-Inspired Condo Home for an OFW Nurse

Two units were combined to create a 45sqm space which interior designer Audrey Letada spruced up into a simple yet welcoming dwelling
Load More Stories