Several years ago, I drove home in my underwear. I was coming from a scary coverage. So scary it scared the pants off me. But that’s going ahead of my story.
It happened sometime in the late Nineties.
The Manila Film Center in Pasay always evoked an eerie feeling to anyone who steps in its halls, even those unaware of the horrific urban legend surrounding it. Countless were said to have died and paved over in its bowels in November of 1981. The First Lady’s Hollywood guests were coming for the opening in two months, and there was no time to dig out the bodies of laborers who died when the wet cement from the upper floor came crashing down. The First Lady’s minions simply ordered the contractors to let the cement dry and lop off any protruding extremities, or so the urban legend went.
Which makes the Film Center a perfect setting for a faux-investigative story with the ghost busting gang of spirit questors.
It had to be a night time shoot. The main theater was pitch black, and our group of 10 (I had a TV staff of three with me) made our way onstage using flashlights. The questors’ guru, Tony Perez, psychic journalist and writer of those scary Cubao fiction stories, whispered that his student can see a laborer standing beside our cameraman. I looked and saw nothing.
But my ungifted eyes were unprepared for what I saw next: in the middle of a prayer led by the questors, the flames of the ring of candles suddenly, for a second or two, all tilted on the same side. Unquestionably, conspicuously, and evidently so, to each of us, that we took quick glances at each other: What was that?
That was for sight.
Our hearing was similarly tickled or intrigued by the slight sound of hammering, or chiseling on masonry. We went backstage only to find it empty. We tried to trace the sound, but who would perform construction labor in the dead of night?
But the faint sounds we were all hearing were nothing to the sudden and unmistakeable smell of ginisang corned beef.
I imagined construction workers cooking on a steel kawali. But corned beef? Wasn’t it usually sardinas? Surely corned beef, especially back in the very early 80s, when it was usually imported, was beyond the means of the Filipino laborer. Nothing that I saw, heard, or smelled convinced the skeptic in me. It was too lame, almost hilarious, for a ghost experience.
But then Perez, who looked like your ordinary university professory, advised us: before we broke up for the night, say a prayer, dust off our clothes and remove them before entering our homes. The elementals or bad spirits might have clung to our clothes in their desperation to move on in the afterlife.
I got in my car and remembered another urban ghost story: the white lady of Balete drive, unable to hitch a ride, suddenly appears on the rear view mirror of a driver, seated on the backseat.
Fear gripped me. I turned up my rear view mirror. Removed everything but my underwear. Sped home.
A bundle of clothes stayed outside our garage gate for a week.
Years later, a proper investigative report by another network found no evidence of buried bodies at the Film Center. The TV journalist tried to trace a living relative of a victim but found no one.
The carnage was too huge not to have a single disgruntled relative.
Then again, there’s also been no trace of bodies from that other Marcos-era horror story, the Jabidah massacre.