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.

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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

Diplomat Hotel Ruins (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author outside the Diplomat Hotel Ruins

The Dominican Hill Retreat House, an abandoned structure atop Dominican Hill commonly known as the Diplomat Hotel, is a favorite spot for photography, airsoft tournaments, film making, wedding receptions and photography, cosplay photoshoots and many more. In spite of it being in ruin, almost every tourist that goes to the City of Pines makes it a point to visit this place because it is one of the most panoramic and picturesque spots in the city. However, due to its brutal and grim World War II history, it is considered by paranormal believers to be haunted.

The century-old Diplomat Hotel Ruins. At far right is the Ten Commandments Building

The building had its beginnings in May 1911 when American friars of the Dominican Order (or Order of Preachers), along with a few Spanish members, made plans for the construction of a vacation house for them and the nuns of their order in Baguio. A 17-hectare hill property was first acquired from Americans who reside in Baguio. The hill where the building was to stand was christened as “Dominican Hill.”

Plaque installed by the National Historical Commission

The building was designed by Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., a civil engineer and one of the members of the order.  He was the same architect of the main building of the current campus of the University of Santo Tomas.

The cross at the front of the hotel. Below it is a bas relief of a probable Dominican shield with a crown on top and a dangling rosary

Construction, said to have started in 1913, was supervised by Fr. Ruano himself. On May 23, 1915, it was then inaugurated. At the time of its construction, it was considered the grandest and most expensive stone structure in the city.

Prayer Mountain and Tourism Center

On June 1915, to take advantage of tax exemptions, the order set up a seminary named Colegio del Santissimo Rosario.  However, due to the very small enrollment (only 6 students enrolled in 1917), the school closed two years later and the building was reverted to its original use.

Baroque scroll ornamentation at jambs and the top of the main entrance

During World War II, the people fleeing from the Japanese sought refuge within its walls. Because of its commanding view of the city, the Japanese Imperial Army turned the compound into their headquarters and garrison. Within the courtyard and its grounds, the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police) committed barbaric acts such as torture, rape and decapitation of priests and nuns, as well as refugees.

The rehabilitated west wing of the building

On April 1945, during the liberation of the Philippines, the American forces bombed the place, partially hitting the right wing of the building while Japanese forces committed suicide. Between 1945 and 1947, the building underwent restoration.

The east wing of the building

In 1973, Diplomat Hotels, Inc. acquired ownership of the property and thoroughly remodeled the interior into a 33-bedroom hotel, all the while retaining the unique features and Dominican ambiance (the large white cross and the emblem was retained) which were earlier established by the Dominican friars.

Fireplace at hotel lobby. Tony Agpaoa is said to haunt this area

The hotel was managed by Baguio-based entrepreneur Antonio Agapito “Tony” C. Agpaoa, the sensational and controversial faith healer (later branded as a hoax by many) famous for psychic surgery who claimed to perform surgery with his bare hands without anesthetic.  The hotel became the haven of his patients that came mostly from abroad and they stayed here while being healed.

Multi-tiered fountain at Courtyard No. 1. Babies and little children were said to have been murdered here during the war

In the 1980s, Agpaoa suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with brain hemorrhage. On January 1982, the 42 year old Agpaoa died of his ailments. Since his death, the hotel ceased operations and was abandoned. Following its abandonment, the place was looted and sacked.

Similar fountain at Courtyard No. 2

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, formerly known as the Ministry of Human Settlements, took over the ownership of the hotel. The Presidential Management Staff (PMS) came next.  During the June 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, the building also sustained significant damage.

Exhibit at west wing

The property on the hill (currently named as Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park) was conveyed to the City Government of Baguio in April 2004 and, on April 5, 2005, was declared a National Historical Site through TCT No. T-85948.

Grand stairway leading to second floor

The entire property was declared as a historical site through City Resolution No. 168, series of 2013. The Deed of Conveyance and City Resolutions provided for the rehabilitation of the old building and the development of the property into a park by obligating the city.

One of the 33 hotel rooms

It is now under the maintenance of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). In May 2012, as part of the development of Baguio Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park as a preserved heritage site and to promote tourism, two new function halls for weddings, training and workshops in the hotel’s west wing were inaugurated. On September 1, 2014, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared it as an Important Cultural Property. 

Still intact bathtub at bathroom of one of the hotel rooms.

This 2-storey building, an example of classic Baroque architectural design with its striking details and admirable design, is a fusion of European church design, blended with local materials and motifs. Its rusticated facade has a porte cochere over a driveway.

The author

The ground floor, with semicircular arched windows, and the second floor, with rectangular windows, are separated by a horizontal cornice. The cornice, at the roof deck level, is located above corbels.

Headless ghosts of nuns and priests are said to haunt these hallways.

Planned out as a castle complete with crenelations, it has a massive fortress-like character. This is also the first hotel in the country, and even in Asia, to have a cross on its gabled main entrance. From this stone crucifix on the roof deck, a panoramic view of the city can be seen. Its roof also has water collecting devices. Inside are two courtyards, both with multi-tiered fountains.

Second floor hallway.  Note the still intact, circa 1970s crazy-cut marble flooring.  Floor beams are supported by decorative coorbels

If ghosts, spirits and the paranormal tickle your fancy, then this so famously haunted, eerie, bleak and abandoned building is definitely for you.  Considered as one of the most haunted places in Baguio City and the Philippines, even since the Diplomat Hotel was open, employees and guests would report hearing strange and eerie noises coming from the building and seeing headless ghosts, with their heads on a platter, constantly roaming the hallways.

Secondary stairway

However, even after the hotel shut down, those sightings would continue.  The people living nearby were often disturbed at night by sounds coming from the Dominican Hill. They would hear banging of doors and windows, clattering of dishes, voices of screaming people who seem to be agonizing, as well as rattling and clanging sounds alternating with total silence.  Adding to the eerie atmosphere is the derelict condition of the hotel.

Fireplace at east wing

As previously mentioned, during the World War II, numerous nuns and priests (forced to serve as helpers for the soldiers) were beheaded here and this is believed to be the reason why headless apparitions are often seen, during the night, inside the hotel. Crying coming from kids and babies, a common noise, are attributed to the massacre of numerous children done at the fountain.

Roof deck

Others say these are the restless spirits of Agpaoa and his patients.  Many years ago, a fire broke out in a portion of the hotel and several guests who were then staying at the hotel were trapped inside and died.  According to one of its caretakers, a woman who used to work there as a nurse committed suicide, for unknown reasons, by jumping from the rooftop where the cross is situated.

Cross seen from the roof deck.  A nurse was said to have jumped to her death at this area

A lot of documentaries have been written about this mysterious hotel.  It was featured on television programs such as Magandang Gabi, Bayan‘s 2004 Halloween Special, AHA! and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho. Right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, is the fairly recent, A-shaped Ten Commandments Building, a “prayer building” which serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

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View of Baguio City from Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Diplomat Hotel: Dominican Hill, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador,  Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open 6 AM – 6 PM.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (or simply the Grotto or Lourdes Grotto), a Catholic shrine and place of prayer and meditation, is one of the most popular attractions in Baguio City.  Located on Mirador (meaning “prospect point”) Hill, in the western part of the city, this very familiar and much photographed spot is particularly crowded on Sundays and during Holy Week, when pilgrims and devotees come to seek the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

The 252-step stairway leading up to the grotto

Visitors to this popular tourist destination have increased in numbers over the years. On Good Friday, it is estimated that about 10,000 people visit the grotto.  To reach the shrine, visitors must climb 252 steps or drive a light vehicle up a winding and steep paved road. When you reach the top of the stairs, it is traditional to light a candle.

The century-old Lourdes Grotto, an integral adjunct of the Mirador Jesuit Villa, was constructed in 1913 at the initiative of Fr. José Algue, S.J., the director of the Manila Observatory. It was made of the same limestone, probably gathered on Mirador Hill, and was built, in slow stages, by Jesuit scholastics (seminarians), brothers and fathers, usually during the summer when Jesuits on vacation would augment the community’s population.

Jandy at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The stairway, from the grotto to the foot of the hills, was completed five years later. The steps began as stones laid on the ground but was later covered with cement.

Candle gallery

Prayer area for devotees

Inside the grotto is a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The image, of polychromed molave, was carved by noted sculptor Isabelo Tampingco, whose name is inscribed (“I. Tampingco Manila 1913”) at the back of the statue. Above the statue are inscribed the Latin words Tota Pulchra Es Maria (“You are beautiful Mary,” part of an old Catholic prayer of the same title). An excellent view of the city can be had from the grotto.

View of Baguio City

On March 2007, work began on the grotto’s upper most section. For the convenience of pilgrims, the upper most landing was extended by more than 150 sq. m. and handicap access was provided. The stairs leading up to the grotto, damaged during the July 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, was repaired and a center rail added for the convenience of the elderly.

Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria

Within the shrine is the Kapilya nina Hesus at Maria (Chapel of Jesus and Mary).  Commonly known as the Lourdes Grotto Chapel, inside is an image of the Divine Mercy on the left and Our Lady of Lourdes on the right.

Interior of Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria. On the left is the statue of the Divine Mercy while on the right is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes

Also within the grounds is The Shrine of The Risen Lord, a big statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms.  Made on the spot by skilled sculptors from Black Nazarene Enterprises (the sculpture atelier of Bernie Caber), it was dedicated on February 11, 2008, the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous.

Walkway leading to The Shrine of the Risen Lord

The statue will be the culmination of a planned outdoor Stations of the Cross whose bas reliefs will also be designed by Bernie Caber.  It will begin near the parking area at the vehicular entrance of Mirador Hill and will follow a penitential path through the rock formations of Mirador Hill.

Shrine of the Risen Lord

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto: Dominican Hill Rd., Mirador Hill, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open daily, 6 AM – 7:30 PM.

How to Get There: From Zandueta St. (Baguio Central District), jeepneys travel to Lourdes or Dominican Hills.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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

Stairs

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. 

Aparador

Bajo de unas (double bass) used in a rondalla 

Sousaphone

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

AUTHOR’s NOTES:

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.