'Ghost tourism' drawing visitors to Clark

By Ding Cervantes, The Philippine Star

Posted at Oct 31 2012 03:47 AM | Updated as of Oct 31 2012 11:47 AM

CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines – The old abandoned hospital, the trio of pine trees known as Tres Marias, the Lily Hill and the old cemetery.

These are places in this former US military base that gave rise to what some local folk have described as “ghost tourism.”

When talking about scary things in connection with All Saints’ Day, residents visiting the departed in cemeteries are likely to bring up the supposed haunting in these places.

The sites are reputed to be among the most haunted in this Freeport, whose history dates back to 1901 when the American cavalry forces first moved in, and through World War II that saw the death of many soldiers, both American and Japanese.

Mabalacat City tourism chief Guy Hilbero said thrill-seeking tourists include these areas in their itinerary, hoping to experience ghostly sights and sounds, especially during All Saints’ Day.

“I am open-minded, and I don’t see anything wrong with this so-called ghost tourism,” he said.

Retired Benedictine priest Fr. Ed Santos, who now offers requiem masses at the Santo Rosario parish in nearby Angeles City, downplayed claims that a person searching for haunted places could lead him to demonic possession.

“Demonic possession does not depend on the place but on how intense is one’s trust and faith in union with Jesus,” Santos said in a text message.

Hilbero said in many parts of the US, ghost tourism has flourished, citing “ghost tours” in Los Angeles and New Orleans. A group called Ghoula, a social club for Southern Californian ghost-enthusiasts, has been promoting their local ghosts in known haunted places.

“There are also ghost tours in San Francisco and Chicago, and United Kingdom’s London and Edinburgh,” he said.

Hilbero dismissed fears that a haunted reputation would drive investors away from the Freeport.

“Places reputed to be haunted here are limited. The haunting is not all over the Freeport, and we can reserve these few reputed areas for the thrill seekers,” he added.

He described the former site of an old cemetery within the grounds of the Mimosa Leisure Estate here as among the most haunted.

“The remains buried there were moved to the present American cemetery near Clark’s main gate,” he said.

Hilbero said a building erected on the exact site of the old cemetery has remained unfinished since construction began in the 1990s or right after the Americans left Clark.

“Employees in the area claimed they frequently see ghosts or hear unusual sounds coming from the unfinished building. There’s no doubt it is haunted,“ he said.

The official also said the abandoned US military hospital near the commercial area hosting the duty free shops is just as haunted. The three-storey building had already been visited by American ghost hunters who featured the story on a US television show.

The hospital’s basement used to serve as a morgue for American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War before they were flown back to the US.

Hilbero also noted the Tres Marias, three pine trees – aguso in Kapampangan – found along the road leading to Clark’s exit gate in Mabalacat City.

“I don’t know the history of those three pine trees which can’t be found elsewhere in Clark, but the road near them has been the site of several accidents. Motorists are prompted to either honk their horns or make the sign of the cross when passing by,” he said.

The Lily Hill, also in the area of duty free shops, was the scene of the bloody firefight between the Japanese and Americans during World War II.

“The hill used to be haunted, but the unusual manifestations have since ceased after prayer vigils and other ceremonies have been conducted there yearly,” he said.

Santos said “like in cemeteries, in haunted houses, there are also angels and good spirits like saints and even Jesus who said, ‘I am with you always’.”

He reminded residents that even during the pre-Spanish era when Filipinos still worshipped ancestors, “there is no report on the connection between visiting haunted houses and demonic possession.”