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ISLAND SCARES:
GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES

GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES: Ask a native-born Filipino acquaintance and chances are good that he or she will tell you about having experienced some visual, audial, olfactory or tactile perception (1) of spirits of the dead. (Indeed, the Filipino term for ghost is multo, a corruption of the Spanish word muerto, both a noun and an adjective meaning a dead person).

Story by Jose G. Paman, Artwork Ricardo Pustanio Copyright 2007

Due to the influence of a number of foreign nations over centuries, Filipinos represent a culture of paradoxes. Unlike other inhabitants residing in that geographic area of the globe, Filipino people, while bearing Asiatic features, predominantly have Spanish names, eat with spoon and fork, and write using the Latin alphabet. Similarly out of place in the region, the overwhelming majority of Filipinos embrace the Roman Catholic faith; there is the oft-repeated saying that affirms, “To be Filipino is to be Catholic.”

“To be Filipino is to be Catholic.”

Filipinos are often typified as patriotic. The Philippine national anthem ends with the heroic phrase …aming ligaya na pag may nangaapi, ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo, which translates as “It is our joy, when there are oppressors, to die for you.” Filipinos are also noted for their bravery. The worldwide phenomenon known as People Power, which was credited with toppling many a cruel regime including the Soviet empire, is said to have originated in Manila when the local citizenry courageously deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Ironically, Filipinos are also known for their belief in, and fear, of ghosts.

Ask a native-born Filipino acquaintance and chances are good that he or she will tell you about having experienced some visual, audial, olfactory or tactile perception (1) of spirits of the dead. (Indeed, the Filipino term for ghost is multo, a corruption of the Spanish word muerto, both a noun and an adjective meaning a dead person).

I spent my first 18 years in the Philippines, in a relatively modern household in Quezon City, located in Metropolitan Manila. My father Jose Sr., having earned five academic degrees, worked as a university professor of World History and Spanish for 14 years. My mother Gabrielita also taught English in college for a number of years. The living environment for my parents, four siblings and me was that of tall building, traffic lights, television and rock and roll music.

During summer break, which lasts two months in the Philippines, we often headed to Naic, a town in the province of Cavite (pronounced ka-VEE-teh), where my paternal grandparents Luis P. and Prudencia A. married and established themselves before the Second World War and stayed until their passing. Cavite is significant as the place where General Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence from Spain in a ceremony held on June 12, 1898. My grandparents’ house in Naic rested in a rural area driven by the farming industry. It incorporated, at one time, a gas station, an ice plant and a rice mill.

The house itself was built in the 1920s by my grandfather, a master carpenter. It had an ante room, a dining area, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms on the ground floor. Steps located to the left of the house led to a lower level where pigs were raised and, next to it, a large storage room for the sacks containing the harvested rice processed at the mill. At the front room, stairs led to the second story where there was a large living room and three bedrooms. The house was lined with wooden sliding windows sectioned and adorned with capiz shells. The front room was secured by two swinging doors with translucent glass so only the rough outline of a figure could be seen looking inward or out.

Residents of the house, at one time or another, included my great grandmother Pelagia R., my grandmother Prudencia A., my grandfather Luis P., my grandmother’s twin sister Josefa A., her husband Severino A. (a physician), my grandmother’s brother Proceso A. (also a physician), and my father Jose Sr. From the 1960s on, there also lived an old man named Juan C., who served as an assistant to Severino A. The residence became the setting for extensive ghostly phenomena that became legend in the town.

Before moving on to supernatural activity within my grandparents’ house, I must mention the frightening occurrences commonly circulated within the town of Naic in general. There was the ghost of the headless priest seen walking along the edge of a 20-foot-tall mound of rice husk outside the rice mill, facing a river. This ghost was reported to walk silently without disturbing the husk and proceed down into the river to disappear from sight.

There was also the ghost of the woman clad in all black who hailed tricycles (a form of public transport in rural Philippine areas consisting of a motorcycle and covered sidecar) to take her to the Tulay na Malamig, literally “Cold Bridge,” on the outskirts of town. The hapless driver she supposedly paid upon arrival with a peso bill. A strong, cold wind would suddenly emerge, blowing the bill into his eyes and blinding him momentarily. Peeling it from his face, the driver discovered that the strange woman had disappeared, prompting a scared retreat.

One version explaining the phenomenon of the Tulay na Malamig has to do with my great grandmother Pelagia R. Her husband Cirilo A. was a revolutionary commanding a band against foreign rule. First struggling for freedom from the colonial Spanish, he and his group did not surrender their arms when American forces took over the Philippines in 1898. As the story goes, a spy gave up his group’s position to the Americans one day in 1900, and Cirilo was felled by a bullet to the leg fired as he sat on his horse. He awoke to find himself in a hospital, leg amputated due to the severity of the bullet wound. Surrounded by Caucasian faces, he began to struggle, crying out that he no longer wanted to live under a foreign flag, be it Spanish or American. He died from the resultant severe hemorrhaging.

My grandmother Pelagia took over her dead husband’s post, dressing herself as a man and commanding his forces (in the way of Filipina heroine Gabriela Silang, who took her husband Diego’s place after he was killed by Spaniards) and eventually exacting revenge on the traitor who had provided the information to the Americans. Later, as an expression of grief over her husband’s death, Pelagia chopped firewood near the Tulay na Malamig. Dressed in all black to signify mourning and smoking a cigar illuminating her face, Pelagia must have provided a grim visage to the local townsfolk, giving birth to the ghostly legend. Many have opined since then that Pelagia R. was the ghost that led motorcycle drivers down that lonely road to the Cold Bridge.

And then there was the long-haired ghost that haunted a lonely dirt path at night. One sighting recounted how a farmer, returning home from his daily toil, came upon a very light-skinned and long-haired female walking with her back to him. The woman was described to have had her hair pulled to one side of her head, exposing the neck at the uncovered side. Her legs were likewise visible from a relatively shorter dress, a rarity in those parts in the 1960s when the incident supposedly happened. Tired but still responsive to masculine instincts, the farmer first tried to catch up to her, calling her attention to no avail. He finally ran up to what he expected to be a normal living being but turned to discover a horrifying skull face. This farmer reportedly ran home at a breathtaking clip and finally passed out at the door of his hut, only able to tell of his experience days after the incident.

A Phillipine Womans ghost.

My father, a guerilla warfare veteran, university-educated world traveler and no great believer in ghosts, nevertheless experienced an unusual encounter while outside the town catching frogs for fishing bait in the 1950s. His legs were knee-deep in a stream when he felt an amount of sand thrown at him from an unknown source. While the sun had gone down, he recalled having adequate visibility in all directions around him. He was in the middle of an open field with no trees to hide in, and yet could not detect anyone who might have thrown the sand at him. He called out “Who’s there?” and was met with another blast.

Steeling himself, pistol at the ready, my father called out first in Filipino and then in Spanish, “If you are demon or ghost, show yourself!” Nothing followed afterward. Relating the story to my grandparents and other townsfolk later, he showed the sand caught in his hat and shirt pocket as evidence of the strange occurrence. An oldtimer then told the story of an old Spaniard and his daughter who enjoyed taking walks in the area during Spanish colonial times, and suggested it may have been them manifesting themselves from beyond the grave.

Literally closer to home, various incidents that could be construed as ghostly activity happened within my grandparents’ house in Naic. Visiting there during summer vacation, my brothers, sisters and I sometimes heard about and experienced unexplained goings-on in the house. Being avid acoustic guitar players, for one, we always brought our guitars along when we stayed there. There were instances when, hanging out in the upstairs living room, we would hear one of the guitars strum itself. Not an actual chord, but just the sound as if a hand ran over the strings. I recall us looking at each other and saying Hangin lang ‘yan; “It’s just the wind,” to appease ourselves even when there was no wind blowing.

On another occasion, my sister Maria was playing cards upstairs with some friends when they heard the distinct sound of footsteps going up the stairs. She said everyone looked up, expecting someone, perhaps my grandmother with refreshments, to appear at the top. No one emerged. Someone from the group finally got up to check the stairwell and found it empty.

The old man Juan died in the house in the early 1970s, from a fall down those stairs. Following his demise, my grand-uncle Severino A. began reporting strange incidents. The toilet downstairs would flush by itself. He also related how Juan had a peculiar way of clearing his throat with an “ahem” sound. On several occasions, he heard the sound, started to beckon Juan upstairs, only to remember that he had passed on.

Not necessarily related to this, my father at one time remembered how, returning from a bird-hunting trip, he had been visiting an uncle who lived across the street from the Naic house. Heading back home, he and several other people saw, through open windows, a candle moving in the darkness in the second floor of the house. He knew no one was supposed to be there and thought it may have been a burglar so he started to cross the street to confront the intruder. My father’s uncle and aunt stopped him and urged everyone to just pray. The candlelight eventually disappeared and he checked all the rooms within to find nothing disturbed.

While sounds and peripheral sights had been manifested in the house, no tangible sign that could be considered a “ghost” actually appeared for a long while. Until, that is, the night my cousin Ramon decided to sleep in the middle bedroom upstairs. The living room and bedrooms on the second floor had, over the years, served as areas for funeral wakes for various relatives who had died. Ramon woke up in the middle of the night and opened his eyes to see my deceased grandfather Luis staring at him from the foot of the bed. Standing about five-foot-five with all silver hair and a stocky build, my grandfather appeared wearing a barong Tagalog, a shirt worn during formal occasions in the Philippines, and black pants. This was coincidentally the attire he was dressed in for his funeral. Ramon jumped and ran toward the door before turning back in the direction of the bed, hoping he had only been imagining things. To his horror, my grandfather was still there looking at him. He ran down the stairs and arranged for a priest to bless the house afterward.

Before her demise, my grandmother Prudencia related an unusual incident involving her deceased brother Proceso. When he was alive, Proceso would place several leaves on top of my grandmother’s mosquito net while she slept (mosquitoes abound in the Philippines, often requiring kulambo, or nets, to keep them out while one slept) to let her know that he had left to go to the town market early mornings. Being veterans of the guerilla war against Imperial Japan, my grandparents’ and parents’ generations had by necessity devised simple, nonverbal means of communicating messages to one another. To her surprise one morning, my grandmother found leaves on her mosquito net after her brother had died!

One of the most startling episodes in the house involved my sister Maria one summer night in the 1970s. Sleeping next to my grandmother in a downstairs bedroom, Maria awoke to hear her saying, Bakit nandito ka? Baka matakot ang maliit!; “Why are you here? The little one might get frightened!” She noted a sharp drop in room temperature concurrent with this. It seemed my grandmother was talking to her dead husband Luis. Frozen in fear, my sister could do nothing but keep her eyes shut and pretend she was asleep. She could not fall back to sleep that night, she recalled, and felt relieved that she was headed back to Manila shortly thereafter.

A cousin of mine recalled that after my family and I had moved to California, my grandmother often sat in the front patio of the house late into the night. This cousin, who lived in the house across the street, peered out her window one rainy night to see a female figure dressed in a long robe go toward the stairway at the side of the house and descend toward the lower level housing the pig pen. Thinking it was my grandmother, she waited for a time for her to come back up but eventually went to bed. The next morning, my cousin recounted, she asked my grandmother what she was doing at the lower level that late at night. She answered, Nakita mo pala ang babaing puti. Nagpapakita ito kapag umuulan; “You saw the white woman (2). She shows herself when it rains.”

 

Manilla

With their typically old-world landscape and austere living conditions, provinces in the Philippines are derided by the “more enlightened” Manila residents as fertile ground for the perpetuation of anachronistic beliefs. Probinsyanos, as their inhabitants are called locally, are often labeled as simple-minded and superstitious. As we shall see in an upcoming feature, however, ghostly incidents in the Philippines abound in the big city as much as the “sticks.” The second and final installment of Island Scares will feature haunted family experiences from the heart of Metro Manila and, across the seas, in California.

Footnotes

(1) For those unfamiliar, visual perception simply means seeing an apparition, or else an inanimate object moved around by the same. Audial perception signifies hearing sounds associated with ghosts like talking, whispering, laughing, crying or moaning. These sounds may also include footsteps, musical instruments playing, furniture moving or doors opening and closing by themselves. Olfactory perception means smelling a scent such as perfume or flowers that could be brought about by an otherworldly presence. Lastly, tactile perception occurs when one feels something “brush by” or “bump into” him or her when no one is visibly present. A sudden decrease in room temperature bringing about a chilly feeling also falls under this category.


(2) The concept of a white woman, within this context, signifies a female of extremely pale complexion, an apparition. My grandmother was apparently accustomed to seeing her through the years of her life.

_______________________


About the Author:

Jose G. Paman

Manila-born Jose G. Paman is an award-winning martial arts author with five books and more than 100 articles under his pen. His latest book Arnis Self-Defense is available from Random House. A self-described skeptic on the subject of ghostly phenomena, Paman nonetheless admits to having encountered events defying logical explanation. He works full-time for a government agency in the Sacramento area investigating identity theft and license fraud. He is also a state-certified translator, interpreter and examiner in the Tagalog language of the Philippines. This is his first contribution to Haunted America Tours.

Also see: ISLAND SCARES 2: GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES

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