of the 1960s and 1970s was a vibrant place
to live in. Growing up in that time and place,
I experienced the incredible rise of Ferdinand
Marcos (who would rule the Philippines for
some two decades), visits by Pope Paul VI
and Juan Carlos de Borbon, the tumultuous
martial law days, tough military training,
and the Ali-Frazier Thrilla’ in Manila.
I also heard many stories, told by immediate
family members, relating ghostly experiences.
While the first segment of Island Scares highlighted
supernatural events out of my father’s
ancestral hometown of Naic, Cavite, this second
installment features family accounts occurring
in the Philippine capital of Manila and following
us to California.
Manileños, as residents
of the city are called, are generally a snobby
lot. They tend to look down upon province-dwellers
as uneducated simpletons. This attitude is
brought about, as in many corners of the globe,
by the disparity in the quality of life between
the two groups. Many Manileños are
college graduates who move on to lucrative
employment, drive expensive cars, buy houses
in exclusive communities, and send their children
to top schools to perpetuate their way of
life. Probinsyanos, country folk, on the other
hand, are often people with little or no formal
education who have to struggle just to eke
out a basic existence. They seldom own cars
or expensive homes and can ill afford college
for their children. One thing that distinctly
transcends economic lines in the Philippines,
however, is the abiding belief in ghosts.
Whether a business executive, manual laborer,
bank teller or common farmer, many a Filipino
and Filipina believes in spirits returning
from the grave to haunt the living.
were reported throughout Manila in the two
decades that I lived there. The most oft-repeated
one was of the so-called ghost of Balete Drive.
As the story goes, a female student at the
University of the Philippines was raped and
killed by a taxi cab driver. Restless, the
unfortunate victim’s soul haunted cab
drivers in the area, appearing in their rear-view
mirrors as they drove along the road where
the murder took place. This phenomenon inspired
two movies called, appropriately, Hiwaga sa
Balete Drive is a street located
in New Manila, Quezon City, Philippines.
It is known for apparitions of a
white lady and haunted houses which
were built during the Spanish Era
(1800s). New Manila has an abundance
of balete trees, which, according
to legend, is a favorite spot of
wandering spirits and other paranormal
beings. Paranormal experts believe
that the white lady was raped by
Japanese soldiers during the Second
World War, which differs from the
movie (see below). Witnesses of
the white lady, advise motorists
to avoid the street at night, especially
if they are alone. If it is necessary
to travel the route, they advise
that backseat of the car is fully
occupied and that no one should
look back or look in any mirrors.
The apparition wears a night gown,
has long hair but has no face or
one covered with blood.
The intersection of Balete Drive
is between Aurora Boulevard, a few
blocks away from Gilmore Avenue
and St. Paul University. The east
side exits near St. Luke's Medical
Center and the west side exits near
GMA-7 and Tomas Morato Avenue, one
of the night-life centers of the
city. The central intersection of
Aurora Boulevard is the EDSA-Cubao
shopping center built in the 1970's.
Hiwaga sa Balete Drive (Mystery
on Balete Drive) is a Filipino movie
that was filmed in 1988. The white
lady was played by Zsa Zsa Padilla.
In the story, she died in the Spanish
Era but her spirit keeps on searching
for her undying love. Some of the
scenes were filmed on location on
Balete Drive. The movie is frequently
shown in Halloween specials on the
Filipino TV broadcasters ABS-CBN,
Cinema One and TFC.
Lady of Balete
"The White Lady whos appearing
at midnight between Bougainvilla
and Mabolo Sts. was a student of
the University of the Philippines.
While on her way to Balete Drive
from her school, she was raped by
a cab driver and her body dumped
in this area," narrated a certain
Mr. Rosales, a 39-year-old barangay
security development officer who
was retelling a story told him by
Rosales, a Balete resident for
10 years, said the "White Lady"
of Balete purportedly appeared to
most cab drivers because she allegedly
wanted to seek revenge. He said
the "White Lady" used
to be seen allegedly by some people
around 3 a.m.
When asked if he believes in the
stories about the lady of Balete,
Rosales said, "I don?t believe
unless I see her. We?ve looked for
her, but then she has never appeared
He said the lady has stopped appearing
because "maybe, her killer
was already dead."
Some motorists said that whenever
they visit the area, they get eerie
feelings which give them goose pimples.
Some taxi drivers said a pretty
teenage girl in white used to ride
in their cabs, asking them to take
her near Morato Avenue. She would
then tell the cab drivers about
her sad love story while traveling
along Balete Drive. The drivers
said that whenever they ask the
girl where the guy was, her image
would disappear from their rear
view mirror. And when they looked
at the back seat, the girl would
no longer be there.
The University of Santo
Tomas, a learning institution founded in Manila
by Spanish Dominican friars in 1611 AD, and
which my siblings and I attended, boasted
a headless nun who haunted the Medicine Building.
The luckless nun was said to have hailed an
elevator on the second floor one day in the
1960s. When the door opened, the lift was
still a story above. The nun stepped into
the elevator well and, falling, was crushed
to death when the elevator car descended upon
Our house in Quezon City,
in Metropolitan Manila, was built in the mid-1960s
on a new development called Araneta Subdivision.
It had three levels and a basement and included
a large living room with marble flooring,
a kitchen, dining room, library, guest room,
children’s playroom, four bedrooms and
three bathrooms. The property was surrounded
by a driveway, a carpentry workshop, two fish
ponds, a large garden at the front and numerous
fruit trees at the back. Growing up was fairly
comfortable for my parents, siblings and me.
My father Jose worked as a university professor
of World History and Spanish and my mother
Gabrielita worked as an English teacher for
a time before deciding to stay home to take
care of the children. The subdivision was
relatively safe, the Holy Redeemer Catholic
Church was but a block away from our house,
and we were chauffeured to school.
Ghostly manifestations nonetheless
disturbed our otherwise ideal lives at Araneta
Subdivision. Like the time my mother saw a
spectral arm opening the door to the children’s
playroom. She was gathering toys left on the
living room floor one night, she recalls,
when she detected the disembodied arm slowly
pushing the door open. She screamed loudly,
bringing the alarmed maids to her side. The
apparition disappeared just as quickly as
it materialized. My mother related this experience
to a priest, who suggested that fatigue from
the day’s activities may have caused
her to imagine the episode. Fortunately for
all of us, nothing of the sort came up again.
Among domesticated animals,
dogs are often said to have the ability to
sense death. When my grandfather Luis passed
away in the late 1960s, our dog Chico howled
at dusk like it felt his presence. As if on
cue, my cousin Cesar, who had driven the long
distance from the province of Cavite, drove
up to tell us of the sad news.
As a young and impressionable
boy, I sometimes came across events that some
might classify as being ghostly in nature.
I have had the commonly-repeated experience
of seeing a face outside the window out of
the corner of my eye as I watched television
alone at night. The face would not be there
when I turned to look at it directly. Also,
in church (of all places), I once felt an
arm brush by my shoulder, prompting me to
turn around and, of course, find no one there.
events also took place in my mother’s
childhood home located in San Miguel, across
from the Philippine presidential palace called
Malacanang. This was a house that she, her
parents, brothers and sisters had lived in
before, during and after the Second World
War. My mother recalled how, one evening after
the funeral service for one of my uncles in
the 1970s, she laid on a bed on the second
floor of the house to rest. In the state between
sleep and consciousness, she opened her eyes
to see my deceased uncle standing at the foot
of the bed and smiling at her. My mother smiled
back in acknowledgment but, remembering that
he had passed on, jumped and ran down the
stairs. It took some comforting from my aunts
to calm her down.
In the 1980s when my maternal
grandmother Candelaria G. passed away, my
mother, who had traveled back to the Philippines
from California to attend the funeral, decided
to rest her eyes in the same upstairs room
of the San Miguel house. She suddenly smelled
the overwhelming scent of flowers, the type
used in funeral bouquets. She grew alarmed
and went downstairs to find everyone gone
(on errands, she would find out). She later
asked my aunts what kind of perfume they wore
and led a couple of them back upstairs to
see if they could likewise detect the scent.
They could smell nothing then.
A cousin of mine once told
of the time he was walking home to the San
Miguel house when, looking up at the upstairs
window, he saw a lighted candle (1) moving
in the darkened room. No one was supposed
to be home and despite being a veritable tough
guy, my cousin desisted from entering the
house. He prudently waited for other family
members to arrive, whereupon they entered
en masse and checked all the rooms to find
nothing seemingly disturbed.
My paternal grandmother
Prudencia A. was moved to Quezon City from
the provincial home in Cavite in the 1980s
when she got very ill. A retired army sergeant
who worked as a driver for my uncle, a retired
colonel in the Philippine military, was sitting
outside her room one night when he saw three
ghostly figures go through the front screen
door. He described one as a shorter female
and the two others, tall males. Their faces
could not be clearly identified as they passed
him from an awkward angle. Believing these
to be my grandmother’s deceased parents
Pelagia R. and Cirilo A. and her deceased
brother-in-law Severino A. beckoning my grandmother,
the driver called out, “Please don’t
take her...it’s not her time yet!”
The apparitions left the house the same way
they came, through the screen door. My grandmother
expired shortly thereafter.
Haunting events followed
our family when we moved to California from
the Philippines in the late 1970s. In our
downtown apartment, for instance, my sister
Maria screamed one night when she felt someone
or something bump into her even when she could
not visually detect anything there.
Maria’s friends saw
a nurse acquaintance emerge from a hospital
elevator one night after she passed away.
Not knowing she had died, her friends thought
nothing of it at the time but upon discovering
this, were left wondering at the unusual occurrence.
My wife Patricia suffered
a terrifying experience in our Sacramento
home in the late 1980s. I was in the bathroom
on the second level when I heard the sound
of hurried footsteps going upstairs. She banged
frantically on the door and cried out, “Joey,
there’s somebody downstairs!”
I grabbed an M1 carbine and tucked a pistol
into my waistband and started to go down when
she insisted that we call 911. I did and after
a process involving the proper safety precautions,
we got the front door key to the sheriff deputies
via the balcony so they could enter and check
the bottom floor thoroughly. A search yielded
no sign of an intruder.
I literally had to return
to the bathroom for Round Two, after which
my wife described what she encountered: She
had just walked in from the grocery store
and turned on the light to the long hallway
when she saw a figure go from the bathroom
to the far bedroom on the right. It was a
male being she did not recognize, she related.
She was so certain she saw the figure, that
she first thought it to be a human burglar.
As a security guard for
an apartment complex years ago, I was required
to check on the well-being of a resident.
I first attempted contact by telephone but
the resident did not answer. I then knocked
on the apartment door and still got no response.
I entered the unit and found the resident
sitting on the couch facing the television
set and away from me, apparently expired.
I could detect no movement in her shoulders
or chest that would indicate breathing. I
also found out the hard way that the resident
had a cat when said feline came from a blind
corner and ran in front of me down the hallway,
nearly giving me a heart attack. I knew from
experience that what bothered people most
about seeing a deceased person was the so-called
death mask, so I refrained from looking into
the resident’s face. I simply secured
the room, called 911 and they took care of
the rest. The coroner confirmed that the lady
had indeed passed away.
I though nothing of the
incident until about a month later when, walking
by the same apartment unit around the same
time in the afternoon as the discovery, I
heard what sounded like a pained moan. Going
back to the lobby of the complex, I met the
new tenants, a husband and wife, and asked
if they had guests in their apartment for
the day. They responded that they did not,
and I played it off by saying it must have
been someone else’s TV set I heard.
I wondered then whether it was the spirit
of the former tenant manifesting herself to
me from beyond.
When I went to chaperone
a group of middle school students to the annual
Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, we
stayed at the campus of a local university.
On the second night there, I began to shower
after all the students had gone to their quarters.
I experienced the eerie feeling of someone
watching me, with a concurrent and abrupt
drop in room temperature. I got giant-sized
goose bumps and dried up and dressed hurriedly
to join the other chaperones having snacks
and coffee in the meeting area. On the bus
ride back, several teachers began telling
ghost stories associated with the campus and
I speculated whether what I encountered might
have had to do with the supernatural occurrences
Living until my late teen
years in the Philippines and yet spending
most of my adult life in the U.S., people
have asked whether I believe in ghosts. I
always give a negative answer as I honestly
feel that there are logical explanations for
what often pass as supernatural or haunted
occurrences. The “faces” I thought
I saw out of the corner of my eye as a boy
were likely just tricks imagination played
on me, what we refer to in Filipino as guni
guni. The “touch” I felt while
in church once was probably just an involuntary
muscle twitch. The moan I heard from the deceased
tenant’s apartment could have indeed
been the sound from someone’s TV set
bouncing off the walls. And as for the sense
of being watched and feeling physically cold
in the campus shower, it was likely the drop
in activity when all the students hit the
sack and I was suddenly left alone.
As a personal habit, I make
the sign of the cross (2) when I feel I might
be entering into a hazardous or spooky situation.
But then I do this anyway when I’m taking
a promotional exam, going to a job interview
or making a public presentation. One might
attribute this to conditioning to my religious
upbringing; I figure it’s better to
have the protection and not need it than need
it and not have it.
In the end, I try to keep
an open mind. I say I don’t believe
in ghosts but that doesn’t mean they
don’t exist. What would it take for
me to believe in them? First, I would have
to detect something visually, be it the stereotypical
translucent body or a floating head, or something
similar. I’d turn away and if it’s
still there when I looked anew, I would check
to see if it might be a trick of the light
or a contrived hoax. Then I would try to communicate
with it. And if that occasion ever does arise,
you can believe I’ll be back with another
article to tell the tale...
see: ISLAND SCARES:
GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES by Jose
G. Paman Part 1
(1) Note the similarity
of this incident with what was experienced
by my father, as I described in Island Scares
Part 1. The concept of a floating candle in
the darkness is a recurring theme in Philippine
(2) It is more than a passing
curiosity that everyone “turns Catholic”
when it comes to exorcising demons or battling
evil beings, real or imagined, like specters
or vampires. The crucifix, rosary, holy water,
sacred images and Latin rites are all part
of Catholic tradition. It is perhaps because
that church has the greatest experience and
know-how in dealing with these predicaments.
Jose G. Paman is an award-winning martial
arts author with five books and more than
100 articles under his pen. He works full-time
for a government agency investigating identity
theft and license fraud. He is also a state-certified
expert in the Tagalog language of the Philippines.
You can contact him via snail mail, care of:
P.O. Box 352, Sacramento, CA 95660 USA.
ISLAND SCARES 2: GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES
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