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ISLAND SCARES 2:
GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES


Story by Jose G. Paman, Artwork Ricardo Pustanio Copyright 2008

The Manila 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.

Supernatural occurrences 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.

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 his grandparents.

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 to us."

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.

http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2005/07/17/MTNN2005071739562.html

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 her.

University of Santo Tomas

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.

Ostensibly supernatural 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 there.

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...

Also see: ISLAND SCARES: GHOST STORIES FROM THE PHILIPPINES by Jose G. Paman Part 1

______________________

Footnotes

(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 ghost lore.

(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.

_____________________

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. 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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Over the years since the battle, stories of scores of sightings, stranger than reality, have emerged from the quaint houses and gentle fields in and around the town of Gettysburg: Stories of sightings of these soldiers, moving again in battlelines, across
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