On the ABS-CBN News YouTube channel—which has 4.7 M subscribers—among the videos that have more than a million views are the “Kababalaghan” specials hosted by broadcast personality Noli de Castro.
From 1988 to 2004, de Castro hosted the weekly afternoon news magazine show on politics and current affairs, Magandang Gabi, Bayan (MGB). But during the Halloween/All Souls’ Day season, MGB would go full-on horror and talk about ghosts, white ladies, haunted houses, monsters, and other elements of the macabre. These yearly specials became so popular not only because of the subjects but because the shows were presented complete with dramatizations, special effects, and a spine-tingling musical score—not to mention that de Castro voice and delivery style.
In 2010, after de Castro had already served his term as Vice President of the country, he resumed broadcasting duties at ABS-CBN, doing the primetime newscast and special reports. It would take a while before his Halloween specials rose from the dead, so to speak. Finally, on October 30, 2016, de Castro once again told hair-raising stories via the special, Gabi ng Kababalaghan. Perhaps anticipating the audience clamor, that show was aired twice on that first day: the premiere telecast in the afternoon, and then late evening for the primetime outing.
The comeback sparked great interest. Days before, local Internet sites heralded the news with retrospectives of the spookiest MGB Halloween specials. The 90-minute special got plenty of feedback online, and, on the airing day, #Kababalaghan reached the third spot among the Philippines’ online trends.
The comments were overwhelming. ‘’Yan ang kinalakihan ko.’ ‘Buti binalik ninyo,’” recalls JV Noriega, director at ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, echoing just two online posts. Noriega was the director of the defunct MGB and had collaborated with de Castro on both the regular MGB episodes and the horror specials.
Prior to becoming one of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs' resident directors, Noriega honed his craft at Columbia College in Los Angeles where he finished a course in Film & Television. He also did production design work on some movies starring Fernando Poe, Jr., and Ramon Revilla.
The versatile director
You could say Noriega is more versatile than the average director. He is also a cinematographer and prosthetics/ makeup artist. In fact, he is the creator of those creepy creatures (white ladies, zombies, monsters, etc.) seen in past MGB horror and Kababalaghan specials.
It goes without saying that Noriega is a fixture in the specials as much as de Castro. Once when the network’s higher management wanted to shake things up a little and so assigned another director to do Kababalaghan, it didn’t sit well with de Castro, and the results weren’t as pleasing. "Kabayan was lit from below," recalls Noriega, which made the veteran broadcaster look like a horror movie character himself. For Noriega, the idea may match the program concept but not the host. "Kabayan is just supposed to be talking about 'kababalaghan.' Hindi siya ang kababalaghan," the director quipped.
The assignment was eventually given back to Noriega who, after years of working on MGB, has already established a rapport with de Castro. "I know what he likes and what he doesn't like,” the director added.
Adventures with Kabayan
The veteran broadcaster is also "game" to go ghost hunting. For a recent Kababalaghan special, de Castro went along to check out an abandoned military hospital in Clark, Zambales. "According to records, it's one of the scariest places on earth. During the Vietnam War, the corpses of dead American soldiers were airlifted to this hospital.
"Maraming nilibing daw doon. Yung mga wala nang mga mukha. Tinambak na sa ilalim... It was so scary."
Off de Castro went with Noriega and a skeleton crew composed of videographers, light men and audio personnel. The Kababalaghan team also had with them paranormal expert Anna dela Cruz. They were accompanied by the hospital's guard/caretaker who claimed to have seen the ghosts in the area.
Upon entering, dela Cruz said she felt the presence of spirits. She described two: a child with a burnt face and a lady who was crying. These were corroborated by the guard. "The security guard and the paranormal expert do not know each other but they saw the same things," Noriega says.
With dela Cruz leading the way, de Castro and the rest of the team explored the hospital's premises. They stumbled upon the incinerator where the guard said dead bodies were cremated. ''Alam ko na kung bakit maitim 'yung bata,” dela Cruz was said to have exclaimed, “sinunog siya.’
Noriega recalls that further exploration led them to the basement where there was a hole. "It was a little hole underneath the (building's) foundation," says Noriega. "According to the guard, that hole led to a place with plenty of spirits. 'Gusto n'yo pasok tayo diyan?'" the guard asked.
De Castro, who had been a quiet observer all this time, responded, "Basta mauna ang mga camera!"
Noriega continues, "We all went in. It was a cold place.”
Do you hear what I hear?
The team then proceeded to the topmost part of the hospital where the body of the hospital director was buried. Noriega recalls the guard telling them the cameras would not work at the appointed place. “Sabi niya hindi raw pumapayag yung espiritu na magpakuha sa camera,” the director relates. Noriega was skeptical and so was de Castro. But true enough, as soon as the crew set foot on the top floor, the battery packs of the cameras got drained.
“Kahit na more than half pa ang natitira sa mga battery,” says Noriega. They were left with no recourse but to leave and walk downstairs. The battery packs would only start working again when the group was two floors down.
A taping at an old, two-story house in Sta. Mesa in Manila proved to be unforgettable to Noriega because of its mysterious history and spooky atmosphere. The upper floor was abandoned but a family lived on the ground floor. “According to the tenants, there were sightings of a white lady and spirits of dead kids,” says Noriega.
“The mom also told us that her then seven year-old son would go to the second floor. The family would hear laughing and talking and a ball bouncing. But when the mom went upstairs for a look, she saw her son passing the ball to no one. Her son claimed he was playing with two kids who were as old as him.”
The production team shot the re-enactment of the boy playing with the young ghosts in the exact house. But while the crew was lighting the staircase, the ball, which was left by the props man on the second floor, slowly rolled down the stairs. “Wala namang wind,” the director recalls. “Wala namang gumalaw sa bola. We all looked at each other and said, ‘Hala!’”
On the compound where the old house was located stood a sampaloc tree that was believed to be the dwelling of mysterious creatures. One evening, a barangay tanod, who was drinking with his buddies, urinated by the said tree. “The next day, boils started growing on the man’s legs and the rest of his body. He consulted an albularyo who concluded that that the spirits were punishing him for urinating on their territory…. After the man went back and prayed and apologized to the spirits, he got cured — just by saying sorry. Years later, the sampaloc tree was cut down to give way to the construction of a health center. The restroom of the health center was situated on the very spot where the sampaloc tree used to be.”
The team invited the man to revisit the scene for an on-cam interview; he agreed to be interviewed inside the health center, but he refused to enter the restroom. “Ayaw talaga pumunta doon. Takot na takot,” Noriega recalls. “He still had the keloid-like marks on his skin where the boils used to be. We felt that his story was real. Pati kami natakot.”
Paranormal expert dela Cruz confirmed that spirits were still hovering around the house and the compound. “She saw and felt something. She even cried,” Noriega says of dela Cruz. “
What he knows for sure
Noriega has been with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs for 20 years and in that span of time has directed shows including Sports Unlimited, the Tony Velasquez program that dealt with the occult called Verum Est, and Private Eye which was hosted by Gus Abelgas, the forerunner of S.O.C.O (Scene Of the Crime Operatives). He has documented different types of stories and encountered all sorts of challenges to bring the stories to viewers. But as far as dealing with the dearly departed, Noriega has two important insights:
First, one must always give respect to the dead.
In one of the earlier MGB Halloween specials, de Castro and the crew endured a six-hour drive to an old mansion in San Miguel, Bulacan, solely to tape spiels. The location was supposedly haunted.
To fast-track the shoot, Noriega had ordered what he described as a "double-proofed" set-up. Which meant: “Two sets of remote-controlled cranes, two sets of lights, two sets of cameras... So that we would not have to dismantle everything when we have to set up for the next shot." Which essentially meant that there were also two filming units, or a total crew of about 50 people.
All the equipment was tested at the ABS-CBN studio in Quezon City prior to proceeding to Bulacan. Strangely, when the taping was about to begin, the audio equipment refused to work. "No matter what we did, wala," says Noriega. “When the crew returned to ABS-CBN and re-tested the audio equipment, it worked.”
Noriega believes that the audio malfunctioned because the spirits did not grant them permission to shoot. Ever since then, he has learned the importance of lighting candles and saying prayers whenever he would tape in a place known to be haunted. The crew did just that and when they returned the following day, taping progressed without any hitch.
“So now every time we go to where actual things happened, we always make paalam. We bring incense, bring holy water… In effect totoo pala na kailangan magpaalam sa mga kaluluwa. I refused to believe it before, but it’s true,” says Noriega.
At the height of the tension over the malfunctioning audio, de Castro remained unperturbed. “Gano’n si Kabayan,” says Noriega. “Naintindihan naman niya ‘yon. Sabi niya, ‘Anong magagawa natin? Maghihintay tayo habang babalik kayo para kumuha ng bagong audio? Dose oras ‘yon. Umuwi na tayong lahat….”
Click on the image below for slideshow
The faceless white lady of a haunted house in Sta. Mesa. Says Noriega: "I did the prosthetic effects make up for this character. I also did lighting and cinematography for all my work."
Noriega created the makeup and prosthetics of this creature with two horns.
Noriega putting on prosthetics/makeup on the white lady in the car. The moss effect is actually yam.
Noriega creating the makeup for the faceless white lady. "When we have a story conference, our 'Kababalaghan' characters would have to be distinct from each other," Noriega explains. Thus, if there are two white lady stories in one special, these white ladies cannot look alike. The team requests witnesses and resource persons for information in order to create the ghosts as detailed as possible.
"I can be seen on the right side of the photo taking a picture of Prince, my actor who portrayed the bulul in the Cory Quirino story," says Noriega. "Prince did his own make up for this one."
The horns are made of paper mache and the hands are actually garden gloves with DIY claws made from discarded PET bottles.
Noriega's prosthetic rendition of the faceless white lady.
The "tao ng puno" (an interpretation, of course) that lived in the Sampaloc tree. It put a curse on a barangay tanod who peed on the tree, resulting in the tanod's body growing boils, as if he had contracted leprosy.
Noriega (center) with Cory Quirino whom de Castro interviewed at the socialite's home. Quirino shared that she saw a big, dark figure walking around her home at night that resembled the bulul her husband, an antique collector, had brought into their home.
De Castro then turned to Noriega and told him, “Direk, pack-up mo na ito. Balik na lang tayo bukas ng gabi.” The director readily agreed.
Which brings Noriega to his second point about filming horror specials, or working in production for that matter: it is always helpful to have co-workers who, like candles, provide the bright spot during moments of darkness. Because seeing a real monster is nothing compared to being with a person who can make the workplace a living hell.
Photographs courtesy of JV Noriega