Ten Commandments Building (Baguio City, Benguet)

Dominican Hill in Baguio City is now famous for two things – the century-old, haunted Diplomat Hotel Ruins and the newer, giant Ten Commandments Building. This new tourist attraction in Baguio, right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Diplomat Hotel Ruins”

Front view of building

This A-shaped, 12.19 m. high “prayer building” has two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 sq. m. (1,645.8 sq. ft.) Bible’s Ten Commandments (a copy of the rules supposedly handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai) that broke the Guinness World Records as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Concrete slab carved with the Ten Commandments

This PhP5.5-million building was commissioned last February 2011 by Nueva Vizcaya businesswoman Grace Galindez-Gupana, chief executive officer of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp. and founder of  the Kingdom of Jerusalem Halleluyah Foundation International (KOJHF, a religious group), and built by contractors from Nueva Ecija. The Ten Commandments building topped her previous world record, attained in 2009, when she built a similar 65 sq. m. tablet on a hill outside Manila.

It was turned over to the city government in July 2011 and officially unveiled on October 26 in the presence of  Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, Menashe Bar-On (Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines), Minister Abraham Okoliko of the Nigerian embassy and the Guinness representative Vic Fabellana. The Israeli ambassador also led a “tree planting” of an authentic Jerusalem-grown olive tree in front of the Ten Commandments building. It houses an altar and a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

Gupana, who seems to have a penchant for setting world records, claims her company now holds seven records, including developing the world’s largest national flag (an 18,847-sq. m. Israeli banner which can cover an area of two football fields) unveiled at the Baguio Athletic Bowl; producing the longest banner (composed of giant flags representing the Philippines, Israel and the two Koreas); the longest drawing of the Biblical serpent, dragon and beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations (5 kms. long and 7 m. wide), and the largest blood pressure checkup session that gathered 2,302 people and organizing the largest diabetes screening session for 503 people, the largest blood identification session involving 260 people, and the largest cholesterol test session for 527 people. The authenticity of these world records could not be independently confirmed.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant

Ten Commandments Building: Dominican Hill Property, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

My List of the Ten Allegedly Haunted Places in the Philippines

Here’s a list of ten of the scariest places I have visited in the country. One is located in La Union (Pindangan Church Ruins), two in Baguio City (Hyatt Terraces Hotel and SM City Baguio) in Benguet, one in Pampanga (Clark Air Base), one in Mountain Province (Sagada), one off Cavite (Corregidor Island) and the rest in Metro Manila. Though I haven’t really experienced any paranormal activity in these sites, probably because I don’t have a third eye, many others have.

  • My wife Grace and I stayed in the 12-storey, 303 -room HYATT TERRACES HOTEL for three days in April 1986.   Located on a pine tree-clad hill along South Drive, near Camp John Hay, the Hyatt Terraces Hotel was said to be the grandest hotel outside Metro Manila. At 4:26 PM, on July 16, 1990, a little over 4 years after our stay, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Luzon, killing 1,621 people.  Again, I happened to be in the city, with my family and some relatives, on the day of the devastating 1990 Luzon Earthquake but were lucky enough to have left the city before lunch. In Baguio City, 28 buildings collapsed during the earthquake.  One of the most prominent buildings destroyed was the Hyatt Terraces Hotel when the central wing’s terraced front collapsed, like an accordion, onto the hotel lobby, killing 98 employees and guests. In the aftermath of that tragic earthquake, many of those listed as “missing” were never found and many say that there are still bodies in the debris of the hotel site and the spirits of these victims have never moved on. Its tragic history has surely contributed to its terrifying reputation.

Check out “Hyatt Terraces Hotel

Hyatt Terraces Hotel circa 1986

Today, its old fountain and a gated fence are all that remains of the still undeveloped site of the Hyatt Terraces. Now said to be haunted, strange lights and ghostly apparitions are said to have been seen around the empty lot.  There was once a bus stop in front of the gate and motorists, driving along South Drive, have told stories of strange apparitions of the spirits of dead employees there. Some passersby in the area at night have also heard cries for help and seen figures against the spotlight that illuminates the area. In fact, for those driving along South Drive, the directed procedure is to honk your horn when passing beside the former Hyatt location, lest they run over a spirit crossing the street. Aromatic smells, coming out of nowhere, are also consistently reported.

  • SM CITY BAGUIO (a favorite shopping venue of mine while in the city), opened in 2003, was erected on the site where the former 4-storey, wood-framed, 423-room Pines Hotel used to overlook Session Road. On October 23, 1984, at about 11:30 PM, a 6-hour blaze gutted this government-owned hotel. To escape the thick smoke and flames, most of the dead (17 were killed, including 4 Americans) and 46 injured leaped from windows of this American Colonial-style, hillside hotel while others were seen slipping from rescue ropes.

Check out “SM City Baguio

SM City Baguio

Today, mall visitors have reportedly seen faces in bathroom mirrors that would not be there a second later. One patron, in the ladies’ room, gave a photographic description of a bloodied fireman (The Baguio City Fire Department lost four firefighters in the blaze).

  • The MANILA FILM CENTER had its beginnings in 1981 when then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos started the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF). Slated to start on January 18, 1982, 4,000 laborers working, round the clock, in 3 shifts in the rush to complete the project  in time for the MIFF. Tragedy struck, on November 17, 1981, shortly before 3 AM, when scaffolding and wooden support for part of the second basement collapsed, causing at least 169 graveyard shift workers to fall to the orchestra below and be buried or trapped under wet, quick-drying cement.

Check out “The Urban Legend That is the Manila Film Center

Manila Film Center

Rather than halt construction to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of dead workmen, cement ordered to be poured into the orchestra, entombing the fallen workmen, some of them still alive. The MIFF was to last another year but, instead of quality films, pornographic films were shown in an effort to gain a larger audience and, perhaps, to make up for the first festival’s financial losses. Later, in 1984, I would watch the premiere of Tikoy Aguiluz’ startling, controversial but highly-acclaimed first full-length film “Boatman” (Ang Bangkero), in its uncut version, at this very venue. Today, it is the venue of the Amazing Show, a Las Vegas-like song and dance extravaganza  where all the performers are transgenders.

The place, said to be haunted as well as cursed, is incredibly spooky. Various ghostly manifestations were reported within the building on the site, including poltergeist activity, apparitions; mysterious hearing of cries and moans; bleeding walls; and hands sticking out from under doors. The ghosts of those who died are said to roam the area, looking for live bodies to possess and take over as their own.

  • The UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES Diliman Campus , where my wife  and I graduated (with a degree of B.S. Architecture) has had a long history of alleged haunting, with a lot of paranormal hot spots. The Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, at the second floor of Palma Hall, is the residence of a  ghost named “Marisa,”  said to be a famous star of the university’s theater productions back in the 1970s who was eventually overshadowed by younger, more talented newcomers. Overwhelmed by grief and jealousy, she killed herself, in the most dramatic way possible, by hanging herself onstage, in costume. She’s known for making her presence felt by haunting the stage, the rest room and her old dressing room, joining the chorus during performances and, sometimes, showing up onstage.

Benitez Hall

Benitez Hall, home to the College of Education and one of the oldest buildings on campus and, naturally, has gained the reputation as one of the most haunted. A ghost, with blood red eyes, is said to wanders the halls. Kalayaan Hall, a residence hall exclusively for freshmen, has a ghost of a woman who supposedly shows up in the mirror facing the stairs to the second floor of the girls’ wing.  Abelardo Hall, home of the College of Music, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl vocalizing, or playing the piano or the gamelan in the middle of the night.

Melchor Hall

The lights on the top floor of Melchor Hall, the College of Engineering Building, where our college was then housed (the college now has its own building), was, for some reason, never turned off, the reason being that, sometimes, the lights there inexplicably turn to red. Many of my classmates have also seen a “Lady in White” come in and out of the corridor walls

  • The PINDANGAN CHURCH RUINS, the picturesque, roofless remains of a small vine-covered brick and coral church (the first in City of San Fernando, La Union) which I visited way back in 2004, is located 500 m. off the National Highway, near Camp Oscar Florendo. The nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family are the caretakers of these church ruins.

Check out “Pindangan Church Ruins

Pindangan Church Ruins

It is said to be the home of the sole ghost of a headless stabbed priest who prowls the night, either carrying his severed head or searching for his head. Some have also reported hearing his head calling out for his body to find it. The wind here is known to whisper strange malediction to those that disrespect the location.  My picture of the site was featured in an episode of “Ang Pinaka: Scary Places in the Philippines,” aired during the 6:30 PM GMA News TV last October 22, Sunday.

  • The University of Santo Tomas, where my daughter Cheska graduated (with a degree of B.S. Medical Technology), served as an internment camp during the World War II.  Many prisoners died here of starvation and illness, and is reported by believers to be haunted. An alleged mass grave is located near the UST Museum.  One of the restroom cubicles in the Main Building is also haunted by a female student who hung herself.

Main Building of the University of Sto. Tomas

Other paranormal hot spots are the UST Hospital (haunted by a ghost wearing a red tag, which only corpses in the morgue section wear), St. Raymund’s Building (the comfort rooms on the first floor are haunted by the ghost of a girl was said to have committed suicide because she was bullied for her physical appearance), the Albertus Magnus Building (the Conservatory of Music where the piano is heard playing by itself) and Benavides Park (a.k.a. Lover’s Lane) where, at past midnight, students are greeted by a man wearing a Dominican habit who would later disappear (Sometimes, unfortunate couples hanging out in the park’s benches at night, have also heard a disembodied voice singing mass songs).

  • CLARK AIR BASE, being an American military installation, experienced major bombing from the Japanese during World War II. There are a number of reminders of that bloody past that still exist today and these locations are some of the most haunted in the Philippines.

Clark Museum

The area around the abandoned Clark Air Base Hospital has been rendered off limits to everyone as inhabitants have witnessed apparitions of violent spirits and heard mysterious voices.

Clark Cemetery

Early morning joggers have also reported hearing party music and excited talk coming from inside the obviously empty Home Plate canteen.  At the Clark Museum, the ghost of a serviceman who committed suicide by hanging himself still haunts the place.

Check out “Clark Museum

  • SAGADA, in Mountain Province, has an authentic culture dealing with death, free of Western influence. The caves of the town, in particular, are rumored to be site of ghostly mischief. According to the locals, whispery voices are heard and wayward shadows or apparitions are seen among the Hanging Coffins as well as graves up in the Echo Valley.

Hanging Coffins

The Igorots, however, generally say that if you show some respect and leave the coffins alone, you’ll make it out of the valley unscathed. At Sumaguing Cave, locals believe that the cave is haunted by the spirits of their ancestors.  I have explored this cave twice and, each time, I always felt an otherworldly feeling as I entered.

Check out “Back to Sumaging Cave

  • Historic CORREGIOR ISLAND, an island of history and heroism at the entrance of Manila Bay, has played a major role during World War II. Many Filipino and American soldiers died in its defense. During the liberation, the Japanese defenders here committed suicide via harakiri, jumping into the sea or blowing themselves up instead of capture or surrender. The ghosts of Corregidor’s World War II dead were also joined by Muslim soldiers who, in 1968,  were training in Corregidor for a  planned invasion of Sabah in Malaysia but were exterminated during the infamous March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre.

Hospital Ruins

At the Hospital Ruins, tourists who passed by have heard footsteps, rumblings of normal hospital activities, and wails of people.

One of the laterals of Malinta Tunnel. Notice the orbs?

Around the bunker area inside the Malinta Tunnel, shouts of people grimacing in pain can also be heard. Witnesses have also reported hearing eerie sounds and seeing a spirit near by. Manifestations would also appear in photos and videos. 

Check out “Ghost Hunting in Corregidor

  • In INTRAMUROS,  where the historical and the supernatural intersect, the possibility of ghost sightings in the oldest part of Manila is real. It attracts ghosts and ghost hunters in search of kapres, white ladies, demonic spirits, and other entities. In the dying days of World War II, Japanese soldiers reportedly massacred men, women and children in Baluarte de Dilao.

Baluarte de San Diego

Baluarte de San Diego, known as the break-up park for being the site where many a relationship met their demise, is where a crying White Lady often makes appearances.

Manila Cathedral

The Aduana (Customs House) Building, which housed several government offices, is the most haunted building in Intramuros. Many people believe its demonic entities takes lives.  At Plaza Mexico, there have been sightings of reapers, or hooded figures who chase after wandering spirits. Many of the retail and commercial spaces along the wall of Puerta de Sta. Isabel have now been abandoned, supposedly because of numerous reports of hauntings. An ordinary-looking tree, along Arzobispo Street, has earned the gruesome nickname the Suicide Tree after a student, supposedly from Mapua Institute of Technology, killed herself by hanging.  Headless priests supposedly make regular appearances at the Manila Cathedral.

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago, where National Hero Jose Rizal was jailed, was used by the Japanese as a prison and torture chamber during World War II.  It is imprinted with the agony and sufferings of its many prisoners and is now also extremely haunted with ghosts of prisoners who drowned in its underground dungeons.

Check out “RevisitingFort Santiago

Balili Heritage House (Tagbilaran City, Bohol)

Balili Heritage House

Part of the Panglao Bluewater  Resort-sponsored Tagbilaran City Tour

Our first stop in our Tagbilaran City tour was the majestic, two-storey Balili House, built sometime in 1934 by the then bachelor Mr. Eladio Balili, a history teacher of  Bohol National High School and businessman  (dried fish, lumber, furniture, transport and construction),  who later married Ms. Pancrasia “Caring” Castro.

The grand concrete stairway leading up to the porch

Barely visible from the street, its main facade is crowned by a wide overhanging gable roof with roof eaves adorned with Art Nouveau carvings.

The park-like garden

We passed through a park-like garden before climbing a sweeping grand concrete stairway leading to the artistically designed, second floor porch with its rounded corners, rough-hewn wooden posts, topped by semicircular arches with embroidery-like carvings on the fringes.

Arch. Gloria Balili-Katz (right) briefing members of media

The delicate calado wood carvings (in harp design), lattice screens, and barandillas (framed by carved wooden harps and friezes) underneath the windows add grace and playfulness to the house. The two sets of sliding capiz windows, with air vents above it, flank the porch on both sides.

February 18, 1957 (Eladio’s 58th birthday) picture of the Balili Family. Gloria is at the center

Elegant wooden canopies, with tooth-like fringes, protect the windows. The house has a square floor plan, unusual for Bohol houses.

The dining area

Upon entry, we were all welcomed by architect Gloria Balili-Katz, the youngest (of seven children) of Eladio and Pancrasia who gave us a tour of the well-preserved, incredibly beautiful mansion. According to her, the house served as a venue of grand social functions of Tagbilaran which were attended by prominent political and social personalities from both the local and national level.

Photo of Roxas-Quirino meeting on March 9, 1946

One such grand gathering was the March 9, 1946 meeting of then Pres. Manuel A. Roxas with senator (and later president) Elpidio R. Quirino, former governor Perfecto Balili (the brother of Eladio) and other important local political personalities. In March of 1942, during World War II, the Balili Mansion was requisitioned for use by high ranking Japanese military officers.

In the 1950s, after building a new larger house on the huge compound, Eladio finally moved out. The descendants of Eladio also preferred to build their own homes on the large family compound. The house was rented out but its last tenants moved out in 1998. For various reasons (accessibility, water supply, fear of ghosts, etc.), it was vacant for more than a decade.

Office desk with the agila chair (which Roxas sat on) behind it

Today, this well-maintained, virtually unchanged “sleeping beauty” has reawakened after it was converted into The Oasis lodging house (PhP450/pax for a fan-cooled room and PhP750/pax for an airconitioned room).  Meals are available upon request.

Antique wall-mounted clock

Inside are wooden walls (above which are calado woodwork) and ceiling, old photographs (including the photo of the Roxas-Quirino meeting) and floor of wide hardwood planks. Antique furnishings include the wooden chair (where Roxas sat on) with an agila (eagle) at its crest, an office desk, a butaka (a chair with long arm rests) and an old clock.

The sliding capiz windows with ventanillas below it

Balili Heritage House: 6 J. Borja St., Tagbilaran City. Tel: (038) 411-2511.  Mobile number: (0918) 299-1865. Website: www.oasislodgeHeritagehouse.com.

How to Get There: the house is located near the old Holy Spirit School, in front of Mang Inasal.

Bohol Tourism Office: Governor’s Mansion Compound, C.P.G. Ave. North, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol.  Tel: +63 38 501-9186.  E-mail: inquire@boholtourismph.com.

Panglao Bluewater Resort: Bluewater Rd., Sitio Daurong, Brgy. Danao, Panglao, 6340 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 416-0702 and (038) 416-0695 to 96. Fax: (038) 416-0697.  Email: panglao@bluewater.com.ph. Website: www.bluewaterpanglao.com.ph.  Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, Rufino cor. Valera Sts., Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 817-5751 and (632) 887-1348.  Fax: (632) 893-5391.

Carcar City Museum (Cebu)

Carcar City Museum (formerly Carcar Dispensary and Puericulture Center)

Part 6 of the Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort & Spa-sponsored City Tour

The very first museum in South Cebu, this museum is housed in the former Carcar Puericulture Center and Dispensary, a two-storey hospital for women and children. Resembling a doll house rather than a medical institution, it was perhaps meant that way to dispel the fears of the patients.

The second floor veranda

An excellent example of American-era civic architecture in the Philippines, this ornate and gracefully designed dispensary was initiated by Mayor Mariano Mercado in 1929 and inaugurated by Ms.Flora Base Mercado, the mayor’s wife, in 1937 with Gov. Sotero Cabahug in attendance.

Historical plaque

The building was inaugurated as the Carcar City Museum on July 8, 2008, during Carcar’s first anniversary as a city.

Calado woodwork


This outstanding, beautifully restored white painted architectural landmark has a profusion of artful latticework, semicircular transoms, carved barandillas (railings) and mini-canopies and stained glass window panes. Beside the museum is a small gated park that pays homage to Don Mariano Mercado, who was responsible for many of Carcar’s beautiful landmarks.

The author at Carcar City Museum

Its galleries, in several rooms, feature objects with historical, cultural and artistic relevance such as a traditional corn milling stone, antique furniture, winning costumes used by Carcar contingents in numerous artistic performances, women’s clothing worn during that era, religious artifacts, leather cutters, kitchen utensils, journals, paintings, war weapons, medical tools, musical instruments and old news clippings about Gen. Pantaleon “Leon Kilat” Villegas.

Antique sewing machine

Farming implements

Props for Linambay (Cebuano term for komedya or moro-moro)

On the museum walls, visitors can see a chronology of events that took place in Carcar from the Pleistocene period up to the present. The terrace (terasa) is the best place to feel the cold breeze from the outside. 


Bajo de unas (double bass) used in a rondalla 


Carcar City Museum: Carcar Square, Carcar City, Cebu.  Open Mondays to Saturdays, 8 AM to 5 PM. Admission: free.

Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort & Spa: Buyong, Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, 6015, Cebu. Tel: (032) 492-0100. Fax: (032) 492-1808.  E-mail: maribago@bluewater.com.ph.   Website: www.bluewatermaribago.com.ph.  Metro Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 Herrera cor. Valero Sts., Salcedo Village, Makati City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 887-1348 and (02) 817-5751. Fax: (02) 893-5391.

Church of the Immaculate Conception and Fort Culion (Culion, Palawan)

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

From the town proper, we all boarded tricycles to take us, up a high promontory, to the town’s magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception, originally built in 1746 by the Recollects.  It is located within the quadrilateral Fort Culion which was built in 1683 by Fr. Juan de Severo and renovated in 1740.

The church promontory

The church promontory

The fort was partially demolished in the 1930s by American Jesuit Fr. Hugh McNutty to build a larger church, with some of the fort’s original coral rock  used for the nave.  The church was completed in 1933.  Both the fort and church share the same main entrance.

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain


The church’s 2-level Baroque facade has semicircular arched main entrance flanked by pilasters and seemingly topped by the royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The entrance, in turn, is flanked by niches with statues of angels.

The church's interior

The church’s interior

The second level has a centrally located niche with the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception flanked by semicircular arch windows.  Above is a segmental (half-moon) pediment with a centrally located oculus. On the church’s right is a bell tower.

Part of the remaining fort walls

Part of the remaining fort walls

The painted ceiling inside the church is obviously new, but before it was repainted, the original ceiling was painted in 1978 by leper patient Ben Amores, based on the design of Jesuit Fr. Javier Olazabal.  To do the paintings, the handicapped Amores, who had no hands, had brushes tied to his arms and was lifted up. In 2003, Jesuit Fr. Gabriel Gonzalez initiated the restoration and renovation of the church.

One of the fort's two remaining cannons

One of the fort’s two remaining cannons

Today, only a round bastion (turned into a lighthouse), with two carriage-less Spanish-era cannons (one I noticed had 1762A stamped on it, probably indicating the year it was cast), located behind the church sanctuary, and part of the wall are all that remains of Fort Culion.  Here, the view of the ocean and Culion town is spectacular.

Our media group at the fort's remaining round bastion

Our media group at the fort’s remaining round bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

Culion Tourism Office:  mobile number: (0921) 394-7106 (Pastor Hermie Villanueva). E-mail: herme_1670@yahoo.com.ph.

How to Get There: Culion is a 1.5 to 2-hour motorized outrigger boat ride from Coron town.

How to Get to Coron: Skyjet Airlines has 4 times weekly (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 10:30 AM) flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Coron (Francisco Reyes Airport).  Travel time is 30 mins.   

Asia Grand View Hotel: Governor’s Ave., Jolo, Brgy. 5, Coron, Palawan.  Tel:(+632) 788-3385. Mobile number: (0999) 881-7848. E-mail: gsd@asiagrandview.com. Manila sales office: Unit 504, Richmonde Plaza, 21 San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Tel: (+632) 695-3078 and 531-8380.  Mobile number: (0917) 550-7373 to 75 Fax: (+632) 695-3078.  E-mail: info@asiagrandview.com. Website: www.asiagrandview.com. 

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

The Mansion (Baguio City, Benguet)

At the end of the Pool of Pines was The Mansion (formerly called the Mansion House), the Philippine president’s palatial official summer residence and, easily, one of the most visited and photographed landmarks of Baguio City.  Consisting of an elegantly designed, Spanish Colonial Revival-style main building and a guest house, it was designed by French-educated, New York based American architect William E. Parsons and started in 1907 to be the official summer residence of U.S. Governor-Generals.

The Mansion

The Mansion

The site selected was Outlook Point at the edge of the Pacdal Plateau.  Its name is derived from the New England summer ancestral home U.S. Governor-General William Cameron Forbes in the family-owned Naushon Island near the Massachusetts coast, under whose administration the original Mansion House was built. On March 21, 1908, at the onset of summer, the household of Governor-General James Francis Smith moved into the Mansion House. From March 19 to April 28, 1910, the meeting of the Second Philippine Legislature was held at the Mansion House.

Mansion House (24)

With the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, the Mansion House, along with Malacañan Palace, was turned over to the Philippine president. The High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt, the successor to the Governor-General as the highest American official in the Philippines and representative of the United States Government, then built The American Residence, completed in 1940 at Camp John Hay.

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

During the Second World War, the Mansion House was badly damaged due to constant bombing and strafing but, in 1947, it was rebuilt at a cost of PhP80,000 and improved, with additional guest rooms and conference rooms constructed. Since then, it has served as the holiday home and working office for each President of the Philippines during his or her visits to Baguio City.

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The Mansion House was also used as the venue of important events. In 1947, it served as the seat of the second session of of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE). The next year, it was the site of the second session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and, in 1950, the first meeting of the Southeast Asian Union (SEAU), more commonly known as the Baguio Conference of 1950, was conceived and convened by President Elpidio Quirino.

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Parts of the Mansion House are open to tourists. As always, there were lots of tourists taking turns posing in front of its tall and ornate, main gate, still one of the most photographed sections of the property. Made of ornate ironwork, the front gate was earlier falsely reported as a replica of one of the main gates at Buckingham Palace in London. A contingent of Philippine Marines maintains the security of this large compound and we saw some of them manning the guardhouse at the vicinity of the entry gate.

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

Mounted on the gate posts are 2 historical markers unveiled by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Historical Institute (now the National Historical Commission of the Philippineson December 30, 2008 (the centenary of the Mansion House), one in English and the other containing the text translated in Filipino, both detailing the structure’s history.  On January 16, 2009, the board of the National Historical Institute, through Resolution No. 1, s. 2009, declared the Mansion House as a National Historical Landmark.

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

Some official government vehicles entered the compound by passing through a great circular driveway. Within the compound and adjacent to the Mansion is a two-story building which serves as the official residence of the Philippine President. Nearby is a small amphitheater. As the President was not in residence, Jandy, Almira, Albert, Melissa and I, as well as other tourists, were allowed to enter a little past the gates, posing in front of its beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn, also a favorite site for sightseeing and picture taking.

The author and Jandy

The author and Jandy

Tourists can also visit the Mansion House’s museum, a branch museum of  the Malacañang Museum (now the Presidential Museum and Libraryestablished on May 18, 2010 by virtue of Executive Order No. 880.  The museum  houses presidential memorabilia and works of art collected over its years by former presidents.

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The Mansion: C.P. Romulo Drive (formerly a part of Leonard Wood Rd.), 2600 Baguio City, Benguet.

The Ruins (Talisay City, Negros Occidental)

The highlight of our Silay Heritage Tour was our visit to The Ruins in nearby Talisay City.  Here, a wacky, English and Tagalog-speaking tour guide narrated to visitors the fascinating tale of The Ruins, injecting humor along the way.

The Ruins - the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins – the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins is what remains of the grand, 2-storey mansion that Negrense sugar baron, Don Mariano “Anoy” Ledesma Lacson (1865-1948) built in the middle of his 440-hectare sugar cane plantation in the early 1920s, following the death of his first wife, Maria Braga, a Portuguese from Macau who died in an accident while pregnant with their 11th child. Don Mariano is the youngest of the 8 children of Lucio Lacson and Clara Ledesma from Molo, Iloilo.

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

He later remarried, this time to Concepcion Diaz from Talisay, adding 3 more children to his existing brood of 10 (which included Rafael Lacson, the former governor of Negros Occidental). It became the residence of Don Mariano and his unmarried children. After drawing lots, Don Manuel’s sugar plantation was divided among the 10 children by his first wife Maria and  the mansion went to Mercedes Lacson who married Manuel Javellana from Jaro District in Iloilo.

The interior of The Ruins

The interior of The Ruins

Later, the land was again divided into equal parts among the couple’s 12 children and the 3.6 hectares that included the mansion was given to Ramon Javellana. Raymund Javellana, one of Ramon’s children, thought of restoring the mansion and converting it to a tourist spot but the mansion remained abandoned for 67 years until they started to develop it on May 2007.  On January 2008, it was officially opened to the public as a tourist attraction.

The main entrance

The main entrance

The 903 sq. m., 10-room (8 rooms for their children, a master’s bedroom and a family room) mansion, of Italianate architecture, has twin Neo-Romanesque columns with the first letters of the names of Don Manuel and Dona Maria engraved onto the mansion’s posts.  They actually looked like Es that face each other.

The mansion grounds

Cheska, Marve, Kyle and Grace at the mansion grounds

Facing the main door, the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, at the ground and second floors respectively, were all located on the left side. The master’s bedroom and the family room were both located upstairs and facing west, on the left and right, respectively. A small arched window, between the kitchen and the dining area, facilitated the movement of food, minimizing the servants going in and out of the kitchen.

The "M" moldings

The “M” moldings

The picturesque mansion, one of the top 12 fascinating ruins in the world and the Taj Mahal of Negros, has many interesting tales to tell.  Its top edges also feature a shell-inspired decor which, in New England, indicates that the homeowner is a ship captain. At the glassed-in sunroom with bay windows, Don Mariano would be often seen sitting as he viewed ships that come and go along the coastal waters of Talisay. Maria Braga’s father was also a ship captain.  Again, in keeping with the marine theme, the mansion’s second story also features a belvedere, between the master’s and family room  and also facing the west, where the family would gather to watch the sunset.

The restaurant dining area

The restaurant dining area

Felipe, one of Don Manuel’s sons, supervised the continuous concrete mixing and pouring, done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This ensured that the concrete was very compact and that no air got in, resulting in the high-quality strength of the structure.  The concrete mixture also incorporated egg whites which, to this day, visitors can still see the gloss or shine on the mansion’s walls because of it.

The remains of the stairs

The remains of the stairs

In 1942, during the Japanese occupation in the early part of World War II, the mansion was reduced to its skeletal frame when USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) guerillas set the mansion ablaze, with the consent of Don Manuel, so it would not be used as headquarters by the Japanese forces.

Detail of column capital

Detail of column capital

The mansion’s roof, ceiling and the 2-inch thick, meter wide and approximately 20.5 m. long, jointless wooden floors, extending from the main entrance up to the end of the dining area, were all burned during the non-stop, 3-day fire but the foundations remained standing, thanks to its oversized steel bar reinforcement and the meticulous way of pouring the A-grade mixture.  The original Spanish machuca floor tiles, the hardest and most expensive during that time, also survived.

Detail of arch

Detail of arch

The original, 4-tiered fountain outside the mansion was, in its heyday, surrounded by a beautiful lily garden maintained by a Japanese gardener who, following the burning of the mansion, mysteriously disappeared.   Today, its landscaped garden draws various inspirations – from formal English to Japanese-inspired gardens.

The original 4-tier fountain

The original 4-tier fountain

Viewed just outside the mansion, with a tree on top, is the chimney (simborio) of the muscovado sugar mill (where the juice of the sugarcane is extracted) of the family’s sugar farm. From the mill, the extracted sugarcane juice is then transferred to large vats, heated and then cooled to produce the sugar crystals.

Exterior detail

Exterior detail

Inside The Ruins is a semi-fine dining restaurant (offering Mediterranean cuisine), a mini-bar and a souvenir shop while around it are modern additions – an 18-hole mini golf course, a snack bar and newly built toilets that still use the mansion’s original septic tank.

Belvedere detail

Belvedere detail

Aside from tours and dining, The Ruins are also be used for special events such as weddings, family reunions, pre-nuptial pictorials, etc.  There are also a stall selling Erv’s sugar cane juice, camping and picnic grounds, bath houses and a pavilion. Also within the grounds is a 3 m. high obelisk,the Landmark Award of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineering (PICE). Too bad, we left at 5 PM.  According to our guide, you will see the building glow from the sunset around 5:30 PM.

The simborio

The simborio

The Ruins: Open daily, 8:30 AM to 8 PM. Tel: (034) 476 4334. Admission: PhP60 (adults), PhP40 (students) and PhP30 (children).



Echo Valley (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After checking in to our rooms at Alapo’s View Inn, we rested for a while then assembled at the ground floor for our guided tour of the lush and picturesque Echo Valley, one of the most popular hikes in Sagada.  Though it wasn’t our first visit (Jandy and I have visited it twice before), it would be the first for most of the group. We conveniently wore shorts and slippers and brought along our jackets, water bottle and my camera.  From our inn, we all entered the compound of St. Joseph’s Resthouse and St. Joe’s Cafe, then crossed the road to the grounds of the Anglican Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the oldest church in the Cordilleras outside of Baguio City.  Here, we already noticed the huge number of people also undertaking this introductory tour of Sagada.

Echo Valley and its famed hanging coffins

Further up the St. Mary High School gate, past the basketball court, Centennial Bell and the Sagada Cooperative Store, we climbed paved steps up to the Sagada Cemetery which has 14 Stations of the Cross and is marked with a huge cross.  I asked the guide if he knew where the burial plot of Eduardo Masferre, the famous photographer who died in 1995, was but he was just as unknowing as I was.  Well, maybe next time.  William Henry Scott, the American historian who died in 1993, is also buried here.

Sagada Cemetery
The cemetery has a fine view of the northern valley. Further up the cemetery is Calvary, the cemetery’s highest point.  From Calvary, we went down a narrow, steep dirt path to Echo Valley.  Along the way, we espied, on the left side, a 40-ft. high cliff where the Sagada rock climbing tour is conducted (PhP250/pax).  Sagada, with lots of cliffs and rock formations, is one of the few Philippine destinations that offer the fairly young sport of natural rock climbing.
Sagada Rock Climbing Tour
At the valley’s vantage point, some of our companions shouted out loud to hear their echo while others just admired the pleasant scenery.  From afar, we could already see 2 clusters of the town’s famed hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs.
Aldrin and Jandy at the vantage point
From the valley, we again made a steep hike down, to the “hanging coffins” located on large limestone cliffs at the opposite side.  The few “death chairs” (sangadil) placed next to the hanging coffins were still there.
It was already starting to rain when we made our way back up the valley and the path was already becoming slippery.  Our jackets, made just for cold protection, was soon soaked inside and out and we were soon drenched when we arrived at the church and sought refuge inside.  Here, we waited for the rains to subside before making our way back to the inn.

A Walking Tour of Escolta (Manila)

I have been dying to do a walking tour of Escolta, Manila’s historic version of High Street. During the Spanish era, this short (less than a kilometer long) stretch was linedwith rows of camarines (1-storey Chinese shops). On his way to his office in Intramuros from Malacanang, the Spanish governor-general would usually pass here with his escolta (official escorts), hence the derivation of its name (from the Spanish word escortar meaning “to escort”).  Later, these camarines along Calle Escolta were replaced by bahay-na-bato  (stone houses) adorned with Neo-Classical elements such as Greek columns and caryatids and, towards the end of the Spanish regime, by European establishments, the only ones permitted to do business along the cobblestones (imported from Hong Kong) of this narrow, historic thoroughfare.

Escolta – A shadow of its former self

From the early 1900’s to the 1960s, Escolta was the country’s premier shopping mecca, with high-end stores such as La Estrella del Norte and Puerta del Sol, which marked the east and west entrances of Escolta.  It is also home to H.E. Heacocks and Oceanic (for fine household items);  Berg’s (for fashionable clothes);  Hamilton Brown and Walk-Over Shoe Store (for quality leather shoes); 2 high-class cinema theaters (Capitol and Lyric) which brought the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to Manila; restaurants (Henry’s Donuts, Max’s Fried Chicken, Dencia’s Pansit Malabon, Savory Restaurant, etc.); and Botica Boie (for mixed potent medicines).  Founded in 1830, the latter also served the best ice cream sodas, brewed coffee and clubhouse sandwiches in its glass-in mezzanine overlooking the street.  With the emergence of commercial and business districts of Makati and Quezon City, the prestige of Escolta gradually faded.

The First United and Regina Buildings

Needing to buy some lighting fixtures along nearby Soler St., I decided to include a visit to Escolta  in my itinerary.  From Gil Puyat Ave., I took the LRT and dropped off at Carriedo Station.  The first notable piece of architecture I encountered was the Neo-Classical-style Don Roman R. Santos Building, fronting Plaza Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti).  When the Japanese bombed the city during World War II, only 3 of its 5 floors were finished.  Luckily, it survived and the building was finished in 1957.  The building once housed the headquarters of Monte de Piedad and Prudential Bank and, later, a shopping mall (South Super Mart).  When the mall closed, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) took over the building. Its entrance has Ionic columns with a triangular pediment, within which is a big clock flanked by bas-relief sculptures.

Don Roman R. Santos Building

Both ends of Escolta open into impressive open spaces  (Plaza Sta. Cruz and Plaza Moraga).  Though no longer the premier shopping district it used to be, strolling along Escolta is still a rewarding experience as one could still find traces of its glorious past.  Uponcrossing the little Visita Bridge spanning Estero de la Reina, at the Sta. Cruz entrance of Escolta, I was attracted by 2 impressive, eye-catching (though marred by entangled electrical cables) buildings facing each other – the fancy, Art Deco-style First United Building and the elegant Beaux Arts-style Regina Building.

First United Building

The pink and white First United Building, formerly the Perez-Samanillo Building, is one of the few surviving examples of the Art Deco architectural style in Manila. Built in 1928 by Andres Luna de San Pedro (Juan Luna’s son), it’s awesome façade has a large amount of architectural and decorative elements.  Its central bay rises towards a crowning block rendered with a bas-relief of the Creation. Once described as Manila’s foremost business address, it prides itself with providing maximized space, abundant lighting and ventilation to its tenants.

Regina Building

The graceful, white Neo-Classical-style Regina Building, built in 1934, its design (with traces of Renaissance Revival) also attributed to Andres Luna de San Pedro, was originally designed as a 3-storey commercial building. A fourth floor was added by Arch. Fernando H. Ocampo (founder of the UST College of Architecture and designer of the UST Central Seminary and the 8th Manila Cathedral) when the de Leon family bought the building from the Roxases. The staff of the late Sen. Vicente Madrigal (grandfather of Sen. Jamby Madrigal) rented a suite in this building.  Also on the same floor, across the hall, was the office of Madrigal Shipping, then the world’s largest tramp steamship company.

Burke Building

Further out was the Burke Building, with its simple balance lines.  Built in 1919, it was named after the cardiologist William J. Burke who introduced and installed the first electrocardiograph in the country.  Also a philanthropist, he donated the land for the street (Calle David, renamed W. Burke St. in 1990).  The first Otis elevator in the Philippines was installed in this building.

Natividad Building

The charming, Beaux Arts-style Natividad Building, one of the most beautiful landmarks in the area, is one of the oldest buildings along Escolta.  It was burned during the 1945 Battle of Manila (leaving only its exterior shell) and was later restored.  In the 1950s, this building housed the office of the Insurance Commission.  Its alluring, ivory and white-colored facade, evocative of a French café in a Parisian neighborhood, has four levels alternately decorated with arched and square windows with cornices with tooth-like dentils underneath it.

Calvo Building

The stunning, Beaux Arts-style Calvo Building, built in 1938 by Mr. Edificio Calvo, was also designed by Arch. Fernando Ocampo.  The richly-decorated facade at the second level has arched windows (except at the truncated corner) flanked by Ionic pilasters, above which is a cornice embellished by garlands and gracefully broken, in alternating sections, by cartouches supported by corbels above the window’s arch.

The truncated corner

This 4-storey building once housed the Philippine Bank of Commerce, the popular MV Villar Records Store and the original radio station of Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart’s Channel 7. On its roof deck was Luisa, a popular soda fountain. Today, Mercury Drug and Tropical Hut flank the entrance to the building, with Wah Yuen Hot Pot and Seafood Restaurant in its Calle Soda side. Its mezzanine  is home to the little-known Escolta Museum.

Cartouche above the arched window

Across the street from the Calvo Building is the decaying and dilapidated shell of the majestic, Mesopotanian-inspired Art Deco-style Capitol Theater. Built in the 1935, this theater, designed by National Artist Arch. Juan Nakpil, had a seating capacity of 800 and an unusual double balcony.  Its lobby once mounted a beautiful wall mural by the late Filipino modernist and National Artist Victorio C. Edades. Now abandoned, it ceased operations in the late 1980s.

Capitol Theater

On the face of its western tower were bas-reliefs, evocative of Art Deco lines and curves, showing Filipinas (one holding a mask and another holding a lyre) in traje de mestiza frame and set in a tropical landscape, attributed to the Italian atelier of Francesco Ricardo Monti. The bigger, 1600-pax Lyric Theater, another Art Deco masterpiece designed by Modernist Arch. Pablo S. Antonio, was demolished in the early 1980s.

Burke Building: 321 W. Burke St., cor, Escolta St., Binondo, Manila

Calvo Building: 266 Escolta St. cor. Calle Soda, Binondo, Manila.  Tel: (632) 241-4762.

First United Building: 413 Escolta cor. David St., Binondo, Manila.

Natividad Building: Escolta cor. Tomas Pinpin St., Binondo Manila

Regina Building: W. Burke St., cor, Escolta St., Binondo, Manila

Roman S. Santos Building: Escolta cor. Yuchengco St., Binondo, Manila

Gota de Leche Building: A Heritage Conservation Success Story

Early this year, Jandy and I happen to attend a Heritage Conservation Society seminar held at the historic, nicely-preserved, American-era  Gota de Leche Heritage Building, within Manila’s “University Belt” (adjacent to the University of the East). In attendance were HCS President Arch. Nathaniel “Dinky” A. von Einsiedel (my former boss and wedding godfather married to my first cousin), HCS Chairperson Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Arch. Fernando “Butch” Nakpil-Zialcita, Ivan Anthony S. Henares and Ivan ManDy.   The Heritage Conservation Society advocates the preservation of our built heritage, cultural and historical sites and settings.  The iconic building where the seminar was held, the last remaining heritage property of value along historic Lepanto St., is an inspiring success story that should be emulated in the preservation of Metro Manila’s endangered heritage.

The iconic Gota de Leche Building

Gota de Leche (Spanish for “drop of milk”), the first and oldest nonsectarian charitable organization in the country, was founded in 1905 by the Asociacion Feminista Filipina, a women’s movement in the Philippines. At that time, women didn’t have equal rights and were dependent on their husbands.  This group, devoted to mother-and-child health, included educated women such as Concepcion Felix (the first Filipina to earn a college degree), Librada Avelino (founder of Centro Escolar University), Justice Natividad Almeda Lopez (the first Filipina to practice law  and president of Gota de Leche for more than 40 years) and Filomena Francisco (the first woman pharmacist).


Part of a worldwide movement to help children whose mothers couldn’t breastfeed, Gota de Leche (also known by its institutionalized name La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc. or LPI) established, among many things, a milk station for infants since the number of cases of beriberi, malnutrition, and child mortality was alarmingly high. Its impressive operation involved cow owners who donated extra milk (bottled and delivered to Gota de Leche in calesas).  San Miguel provided the ice to prevent spoilage and electricity and water was free. Famous Dr. Fernando Calderon, a leading Filipino obstetrician during the American colonial period and the first director of the Philippine General Hospital, also lent his time to the institution.

The colonnaded main entrance

During its heyday, Gota de Leche fed 500 to 1,000 babies per week. Today, during feeding sessions held every Thursday (with a volunteer pediatrician on hand), its feeding program provides 2 kgs. of powdered milk per person  and every month, the institution spends a total of PhP60,000 on ten 25-kg. sacks of milk. Once the babies are no longer malnourished, a 4-man staff monitors the height and weight of children who “graduate” from the feeding program.

NHI plaque (1977)
NHI plaque (2003)

The iconic, 2-storey building which housed this movement (which moved here from its original home along Evangelista St. in Quiapo) was designed by architects Arcadio Arellano and his younger U.S.-educated brother Juan Arellano (he would later designed the Manila Central Post Office Building and the Metropolitan Theater).  The building, patterned after the Osepedale Degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), a still-existing orphanage designed by renowned Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi from 1419 to 1427 in Florence (Italy), was adapted for the tropics.

Statue of a nursing angel

Erected on a parcel of land donated by bachelor industrialist and philanthropist Teodoro R. Yangco, it was completed in 1917 and survived World War II, earthquakes, fires and floods.  To the right of the building’s colonnaded, semicircular arched main entrance is a 5-bay loggia (Brunelleschi’s building had 9 bays) with round, monolithic columns with Classical capitals supporting a semicircular arch.  Above each column are circular tondi (roundels) featuring reliefs of infants in swaddling clothes (symbolizing the function of the building) set in spandrels (the space between arches).

The colonnaded facade’s semicircular arches and tondi

In 2002, the dilapidated building was restored to its original 1917 appearance by a team led by Arch. Augusto Villalon (his grandfather Dr. Jose Fabella was once Gota de Leche president), a member of the HCS Board of Trustees and the project’s lead conservation architect and project coordinator. The rental building, an unsympathetic addition attached to it in the recent past, was removed, providing vehicular access and clear sight lines from the street.  The original landscaping was also restored by landscape architect Ms. Ani Katrina de Leon.  In repairing the dilapidated building, traditional crafts and skills were undertaken within a clear and low-intervention conservation framework.

The Italian Renaissance-inspired, 5-bay loggia

The following year, this restoration project was awarded an honorable mention by  Dr. Richard Engelhardt, regional adviser for culture in the Asia-Pacific, during the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation, thus putting the Philippines’ heritage efforts in the world map and the building in the international heritage roster. A part of the building’s space is leased to a woman’s rights non-government organization and its main facilities and grounds are rented out for private functions.

The building’s interior

Gota de Leche: 859 Sergio H. Loyola St. (formerly Lepanto St.), Sampaloc, Manila. Tel: (632) 309-4562.

Heritage Conservation Society: G/F, Museo Pambata Bldg., Roxas Blvd., Ermita, Manila. Tel: (632) 353-4494.  Fax: (632) 522-2497.  Website:  www.heritage.org.ph.