Take a closer look at the stranger side of The Philippines, a paranormal hotspot teeming with haunted places, grim superstitions, and unexplained mysteries from the world beyond.
Transylvania, The Catacombs, Edinburgh Castle. For frightloving thrillseekers, these destinations round out top ten lists for “The World’s Most Haunted Places.” But The Philippines? It’s basically unheard of to see this popular beach getaway on any ghosthunting map. However, Filipinos are some of the most superstitious and God-fearing people, inspiring an unshakable belief in the supernatural. Anyone raised in a Filipino household is familiar with these cautionary tales—of unbaptized children turning into demonic, vampiric creatures; of nefarious mermaids drowning reckless, late night swimmers; of a lady dressed in white preying on innocent men. These paranormal stories, coupled with actual historic tragedies that befell this country during centuries of occupation and ruthless warfare, make The Philippines a breeding ground for all the terrifying things that go bump in the night.
WHY DO FILIPINOS BELIEVE IN THE SUPERNATURAL?
Albeit the predominantly Christian population, the culture itself largely feeds into the reality of the supernatural, especially for those who are from the countryside. Rural people believe that mythical creatures are spawns of Satan, marrying their Christian values with pagan ideologies. But, in all honesty, I can’t name a single Filipino person whose faith denounces the presence of ghosts, demons, and monsters. Growing up in the Philippines, I was used to frequent power outages, or “brownouts.” As a way to pass time, my cousins would share their conflicting accounts on the White Lady urban legend [see below]and try to dabble in some corny spellcasting. But one time, my father caught us playing with a DIY Ouija board and gave us a stern warning to never, ever play with the Ouija board again because we never knew what we were inviting into our homes. My father believed in the Devil and ghosts. As did my Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog). As did all my aunties, and uncles, and their kids. There was an uncontested truth that the dead came back to visit their loved ones and made their presence felt. My father was certain his mom came back to earth in the form of a butterfly and would always appear fly in when he visited his childhood home in the province.
For a fast overview of The Philippines, check out “A Quick Guide To The Philippines.“
Filipinos also give credence to the existence of a “third eye” and that in each family, one child from every generation is gifted with the ability to see spirits. Those who have seen ghosts are those blessed—or cursed—with a sensitive “third eye.” When people share their eye-witness testimonies, it is assumed that they have the power of clairvoyance. It’s easy to dismiss these beliefs as a hoax from the outside, but to be fully immersed in a culture that legitimizes the unearthly makes the fear all the more real. And my own personal experience being visited by my father’s spirit a few months after his death has made me believe that anything is truly possible.
CREEPY FILIPINO SUPERSTITIONS
There are a number of superstitions that are prescribed to by the older generations. My Lola is fond of reminding me to not eat on stacked plates or I’ll find myself with multiple spouses, but I’m lucky I never grew up hearing any of these ghastly superstitions before bedtime.
If you light a candle in your home on the night of Halloween and the flame goes out or turns blue, it means a spirit is inside your home.
Three’s a Crowd
Avoid taking photos in groups of threes. It is said the middle person will die.
Pag-pag (“The Shaking”)
Do not go home after a funeral or a wake, or the spirit of the deceased will follow you home.
Tabi-Tabi Po (Please Move Aside)
When walking through abandoned places do not forget to utter the words “tabi-tabi po” to pay respect to the demons lurking in the dark corners, unless you want to be fair game to their mischief.
The Shadow of Death
If someone’s shadow appears headless, it is an omen they are about to die.
Avoid talking about bad dreams before breakfast or the nightmares will come true.
The Midwife’s Boon
When a pregnant woman is delivering inside her home, all open holes in the house must be closed or demons will come in and take the baby’s soul.
TERRIFYING FILIPINO URBAN LEGENDS
These horrifying stories have been circulated for generations, every retelling becoming more insidious than the last one.
The White Lady of Balete Drive
The White Lady of Balete Drive in Quezon City is arguably the Philippines’ most popular urban legend. There are countless versions of this story and Filipinos around the country have adopted the “White Lady” moniker for any apparition of a long-haired woman dressed in white. But the story I know goes like this: an innocent young woman was on her way home from seeing her boyfriend, when the taxi driver made a detour down Balete Drive and brutally raped her and left her to die on the side of the road. Ever since, her angry spirit appears to unsuspecting taxi drivers doing their graveyard shift, showing up out of nowhere in the rear view mirror, terrorizing the men in her bloodstained, white dress. Other times, she’s been seen on the road, wandering around lost and afraid and flags taxi drivers for a ride. The minute she gets into the car, the temperature in the taxi drops, and she disappears. It doesn’t help that the road is lined with dozens of gnarled, sinister looking-Balete trees and that the streetlights are always broken. If you find yourself driving down Balete Drive in the middle of the night, don’t look to see who’s sitting behind you.
The Tale of Maria Labo
In the Visayas islands, there is a tale mothers tell their young children to warn them about the dangers of finding themselves alone at night. The tale is of a deranged mother named Maria Lobo, who was overcome by a hunger so insatiable, she slaughtered and cooked her two young children. When her husband came home and looked for his children, his wife revealed she had ate them. Out of horror and anger, her husband slashed her in the face with a machete. She ran into the dark of night, shapeshifting into a bat and becoming the first aswang, the most feared of all Filipino mythical creatures. Aswangs roam the countryside, preying on weary travelers and breaking into homes to feed on the sleeping owners. But their preferred meal are fresh-out-of-the-womb fetuses and of course, young children.
The Invisible City of Biringan
Somewhere on the island of Samar is an invisible city that appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. In local dialect, it is known as, “hanapan ng mga nawawala” –where one finds the lost. The city of Biringan is believed to belong to the fairyfolk, called Engkantos. Engkantos are powerful beings; they bestow luck on those they favor and curse those that wrong them. Those who are cursed by an engkanto might go mad or find themselves possessed by the malevolent spirit. Biringan is also said to hide a portal to another dimension.
A Crying Baby in the Woods
If you hear the sound of a crying baby in the middle of the night, whatever you do: do not go to it. There is a common belief in the Philippines that the souls of unbaptized children are cursed by God himself and that some of these babies morph into monsters with a voracious appetite for flesh called tiyanaks [cha-nacks]. Tiyanaks tend to lurk in the middle of the woods and lure their victims in with the sounds of their cries. As you get closer to the baby and pick it up, it reveals its sharp teeth and will consume you whole.
Mt. Cristobal (The Devil’s Mountain)
In the province of Laguna lies Mt. Cristobal, also knows as “The Devil’s Mountain.” Legend has it that the Devil himself lives deep in the mountain and let his minions roam freely in this unholy place. Over the years, there have been many cases of hikers who have dared come to this mountain after nightfall, only to vanish without a trace. Despite the warnings, venturesome hikers and tourists still come here to test their bravery in the thick, dense forests that covers the dormant volcano. But they know better to make camp as soon as possible before the sun sets… or else.
WHERE TO GO GHOSTHUNTING IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is no stranger to bad fortune. A wartorn past has left a trail of casualties, giving birth to local legends about demilitarized hospital wards concealing unruly poltergeists and ramshackle homes still inhabited by long-dead owners.
Manila Film Center
The events that took place at the Manila Film Center continue to spook Manileños commuting past one of the Philippines’ largest mass grave sites. At the behest of the former presidential family, The Marcos, the construction of the massive Manila Film Center was on an accelerated timeline. 4000 laborers toiled day and night to complete the leviathan undertaking. At 3 am, on November 17, 1983, things to a turn for the worst when the scaffolding of the basement ceiling collapsed and 169 workers were plunged into a pit of quick drying cement. Upon learning about what had transpired, it is said that Former First Lady Imelda Marcos ordered the site manager, Betty Benitez, to continue pouring more cement over the fallen victims to save time on construction. The lot had been buried alive, choking on sand and grout, with no hope of survival. Was it happenstance that the first ambulances did not arrive to the scene until 9 hours later, finding nothing but a concrete mound of human bodies, or was it Imelda Marcos’ evil scheming? Only the silenced know the full truth.
Where: Pasay, Metro Manila
The oldest residence in Tiaong is now the subject of many hauntings. Past caretakers of this decrepit, abandoned mansion have shared their own firsthand experiences of walking into rooms, only to find they’ve been trapped inside; and hearing the sound of thundering footsteps and doorknobs rattle in empty hallways. The ghosts who have lingered are particular fond of the main stairwell: an elderly couple assumed to be former tenants and headless Japanese soldiers frequently descend the spiraling staircase, fading away gradually as they make their way down. Beware of bringing young children; the old lady has been known to chat with young ones, who are unaware that she is merely a specter.
Where: Tiaong, Quezon
Clark Airbase Hospital
What really happened in the desolate halls of the Clark Air Base Hospital? From the many testimonials of paranormalists, mediums, and curious visitors, conclusions are always the same: some things are better left alone. Inside the now abandoned Clark Freeport Zone is the Clark Air Base Hospital, a ground zero for life… and death. The appearance of “dancing” orbs of light is a bit hokey for my taste, but a majority of the paranormal encounters that have taken place in the former military infirmary are highly violent. Visitors have been assaulted by objects being hurled in the air—pieces of debris, loosened bricks. That, paired with the perpetual dread of being followed around by a force you can’t see, makes the hospital one of the most chilling haunted places in the Philippines.
Where: Angeles City, Pampanga
Behind Baguio’s infamous mist and gloom, The Diplomat Hotel rises from behind the fog like something from out of “The Shining.” This is a hotbed of paranormal activity—another alleged scene of wartime atrocities. The Diplomat Hotel began as a seminary in the early 1900s but was forcibly converted into a hideaway for the secret police of the Japanese Imperial Army known as the Kempeitai. The Kempeitai had a proclivity for torturing and decapitating the clergy members who once called this place home, but were forced to commit suicide when the hotel was bombed. Headless nuns and priests stalk the lonely corridors, crying out to God in their pitiful wails.
Where: Dominican Hill, Baguio
Baker Memorial Hall
Baker Memorial Hall is the oldest building at the UP Los Baños campus. During World War II, it was used as a military camp by the Japanese and was the only building left standing during a bloody raid that left all Japanese soldiers occupying the premises, dead. Students claim they see visions of soldiers with chains around their neck, being strangled to death by unseen forces and hear loud party music echoing in the chambers of the hall. Once, a group of unwitting students saw a party taking place with the guests dressed in 80’s outfits. They ran to get their friends and crash the party but when the group came to Baker Hall, it was completely empty, with no soul in sight.
Where: UP Los Baños, Laguna
Laperal White House
Baguio City is also home to another haunted abode, the Laperal House. Like the Herrera Mansion and the Red House, the house was taken over for Japanese use during World War II. During this time, the house witnessed a number of unspeakable horrors, and like a time capsule, continues to remind visitors just how painful these memories were. A deadly quiet hangs in the air and is sliced through by the bloodcurdling screams of the innocent men and women who met their untimely deaths in these dark halls.
Where: Leonard Wood Road, Baguio
Bahay Na Pula (The Red House)
This two-story, Victorian-styled house, painted in a ghastly shade of red, instantly screams bloody murder. And indeed, in its past, it was a destination synonymous with horrific killings. Guerillas were taken here to be brutally tortured and some were even burned alive. Many women were also held as captives during the Japanese occupation and few survived. The townspeople swear that the red exterior has only become more vivid over the years in the aftermath of all the deaths that took place in this house of horrors.
Where: San Ildefonso, Bulacan
DARK TOURISM IN THE PHILIPPINES
Dark Tourism is any touristic endeavor following death, destruction, and tragedy. Disclaimer: I’m not a dark tourist as visiting places like nuclear disaster zones doesn’t really sit well with me. However, it is a growing phenomenon (watch Netflix’s Dark Tourist) and there are many times dark tourism overlaps with paranormal tourism. So, here are two spots in The Philippines that may appeal to dark tourists.
The Hanging Coffins
Tucked away in the cave-ridden town of Sagada is a centuries old burial site. For 2,000 years, the Igorot hilltribe has followed the tradition of hanging their dead off the side of a mountain with the belief that the higher the coffin is positioned, the greater their chances at a peaceful afterlife. The elderly are tasked with carving their own coffins from hollowed logs. Only people who die from natural causes are allowed to have their coffins raised. Any person who died in infancy, or from a sickness, is not allowed to be hung alongside the other dead, as their death is seen as a sign of bad luck. The roads to the final resting place of the Igorots are very treacherous and should be appreciated from afar as to not disturb the deceased (and to keep safe from falling coffins, which happens every now and again).
Where: Echo Valley, Sagada
The Island of Siquijor
To tourists, Siquijor is just another picturesque beach destination. But many locals dare step foot on the island of witches unless they want to get hexed. Siquijor is believed to be inhabited by mankukulam, individuals who invoke supernatural powers to help—or hurt—others… for a price. Some of the island’s residents have embraced their legacy of witchcraft, and these “faith healers” (as they prefer to be called) open their services to those seeking cures for diseases or heartache. But there is a contingent of Black Magic practitioners, willing to carry out acts of revenge on the enemies of their clients, that have resulted in death. Once, a tourist was overheard speaking badly about Siquijor. As he boarded his plane to return home, the jet engines failed and the plane crashed. What was found in the engine was a chicken. How it got there, no one knows.
Where: Siquijor, Central Visayas