New Manila used to evoke a bygone era of elegance and gentility when rows of beautiful mansions lined its main streets. Formerly a part of vast landholdings then known as Hacienda de Magdalena, named after its developer, Doña Magdalena Ysmael Hemady, New Manila was from the start developed as “The Aristocratic Suburb,” an enclave of the rich and powerful. Broadway Avenue, then known as “Millionaires’ Row,” had the most magnificent mansions.
As recalled by Maur Aquino Lichauco, sister of Ninoy Aquino, when their family lived at 56 Broadway Ave. during the Pre-War Era, there were only very few houses on their street. “I think there were only about five or six houses. And one of our nearest neighbors then was Felix Manalo [who lived in 42 Broadway Ave.], and after Felix Manalo it was already Doña Magdalena Hemady’s house [20 Broadway Ave.].” On the opposite side of Broadway were the Cortes-Ochoa Residence [55 Broadway Avenue], the Dr. Jose Lerma Residence [51 Broadway Ave., now better known as Villa Caridad], and the LVN Studios empress Doña Narcisa “Sisang” B. de Leon’s residence [43 Broadway Ave.].
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The Lady of Balete Drive
It was only after WWII when spooky stories about New Manila began to circulate. Foremost among these stories was the so-called “White Lady of Balete Drive.” Linggoy Araneta Alcuaz, whose family lived in a beautiful Pre-War house with gardens at Campanilla Street, off Balete Drive, mentioned in his column for globalbalita.com that his friend, Ricky Recto, had identified the “White Lady” as the unfortunate Elena Recto Garchitorena, daughter of Tomas Garchitorena of Tigaon, Camarines Sur and Maria Cristina “Nena” Silos Recto who was the daughter of Senator Claro M. Recto by his first wife, Angeles Silos. They were residents of Balete Drive. Elena was only 19 when she died in a vehicular accident in 1949 while on a joyride with friends. Her restless spirit is said to appear constantly along Balete Drive, hitching rides with unsuspecting motorists or hailing taxicabs, sitting on the backseats of cars, then disappearing into thin air.
The legend of the White Lady of Balete Drive was filmed most notably in Peque Gallaga’s Hiwaga Sa Balete Drive (1988), starring Zsa Zsa Padilla as the beautiful white lady who lures a handsome young man, played by Jestoni Alarcon, to her haunted mansion peopled by spirits from the distant past. Combining the storylines of the White Lady of Balete Drive and the phantom Tupperware party which was said to have first appeared in an issue of the Martial Law Era Philippines Daily Express in 1972, Hiwaga Sa Balete Drive was filmed on location at the fabled Villa Caridad along Broadway Avenue, a Pre-War Era Spanish Mediterranean Style villa which was said to have been built as a resthouse for the Jesuit Order.
The cries of agony from Villa Caridad
Like other villas on Broadway Street, Villa Caridad was taken over by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Japanese Occupation. Fortunately, it survived the Battle of Manila intact. After regaining possession of the property, Dr. Lerma sold the property to Ambassador Manuel Viola Gallego and his wife, the former Caridad Ongsiako, who later renamed the property, Villa Caridad. From the Pre-War years onwards, the mansion has been a favored location for period and horror movies. Among the horror movies shot there, aside from Hiwaga Sa Balete Drive, were Augusto Buenaventura’s Tanikalang Dugo (1973), starring Boots Anson-Roa, Dante Rivero, Pinky de Leon, and Eddie Garcia; the Caridad portion of the omnibus film, Fe, Esperanza, Caridad (1974), directed by Gerardo de Leon which featured Nora Aunor as a young and innocent novice seduced and corrupted by the Devil Himself, played menacingly by a young and virile Ronaldo Valdez; and Mario O’Hara and Christopher Strauss de Leon’s Halimaw Sa Banga (1986).
Villa Caridad was then sold by the Gallego family to a Chinese businessman who proceeded to have the house demolished. It was reported, however, that with every blow of the hammer, cries of agony could be heard by the demolition team. The demolition was eventually halted and the house is left in ruins to this day, its gargoyled tower left relatively intact like a sentinel watching over the property.
There were more ghost stories which were circulated about other houses along Broadway. There was the one about the unusually large black dog with eyes like burning coal which would appear at a house along Broadway Avenue, and the love-forsaken woman driven to madness whose cries of agony could be heard on the street from the tower room of a mansion where she was locked up.
On the compound where we lived
Having lived in Broadway since I was born until I left for the US for my graduate studies then back again until I got married in 1998, I too have heard and experienced first-hand supernatural phenomena in our family compound. The Reyes compound, composed of two contiguous parcels of land with an area of half a hectare, more or less, located at 42 Broadway Ave. corner 10th Street, New Manila, Quezon City, was acquired by our late grandparents, Florencio de los Reyes, Sr. and Salud Lim Elchico, in 1950, five years after the close of WWII.
The centerpiece of the compound was a Pre-War three-storey mansion with a tower room and attic which served as Iglesia ni Cristo Central and residence of its founder, Supreme Head Felix Ysagun Manalo, from 1930 until the beginning of the Japanese Occupation when it was seized by the Japanese Imperial Army and converted into a military garrison. After WWII, the Iglesia ni Cristo embarked on the building of its palatial complex at Riverside Street (now F. Manalo), White Hills, San Juan and thereafter sold the Broadway Avenue property to our grandparents.
After some renovations were made to the house, the first occupants of the main house were my parents, Antonio and Clara, college sweethearts at the U.S.T. College of Engineering who had just graduated with degrees in Chemical Engineering in 1950 and had just gotten married in 1951. My mother, Clara, was only a young bride of 19 and was enjoying the idyllic life of a homemaker. Soon, she would give birth to her eldest child, Ramon.
Not long after, our Tita Teresa and her husband, Krause Ignacio, a civil engineer who graduated from M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts joined them together with their twin sons, transferring from their first home in P. Guevara Street, Santa Cruz, Manila. Then in 1952, our Tito Ramon, a Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, followed upon his return to Manila from New York with his bride, Emma Ver, and their eldest daughter, Bambi. Soon after, our grandparents built duplex split-level bungalows where our parents, Antonio and Clara, transferred.
The other duplex unit was intended as a halfway house for our grandparents when they visited. Hpwever, it was soon after occupied by my mother’s sister, Rosario and her husband, Dr. Francisco R. Du, and their children. The last family to move in was my mother’s youngest brother, Florencio, Jr., nicknamed “Totoy,” who first stayed with us when he was a bachelor and had just finished his M.B.A. studies at New York University. He enjoyed the life of a very eligible bachelor until he eloped with his young bride, Rosario, a daughter of Senate President Amang Rodriguez. For them, our grandfather built a quaint Japanese Style house where they stayed with their six children until around 1967.
When all these families were still living in the compound, we were 35 cousins in all staying there plus over 20 more visiting. The Reyes Compound was constantly abuzz with kids running around, riding their bikes and scooters, climbing trees, picking fruits and flowers, catching butterflies, dragonflies and salagubang, building tree houses, camping in tents on the extensive grounds, spraying each other wet with the garden hose, walking and biking around the neighborhood to visit neighborhood kids and buy candies and sitsirya from Planas Store, Aling Mameng’s jeepney store, ghost hunting, and discovering every nook and cranny of the spooky main house.
The main house had eight bedrooms, three on the ground floor, four on the second floor, and one in the tower room with attic. It is possible the rooms downstairs were offices of the Iglesia ni Kristo. The main entrance was a heavy ornately grilled wood and glass double door which opened to the living area with colorful, geometrically patterned encaustic tile flooring. The right side wall was made of translucent glass blocks with a door leading to the grand staircase going up to the second floor living room. On the left wall are sliding windows with wooden frames and stained and frosted glass overlooking the garden. There was a big oblong-shaped post in the middle of the living area and further to the left and right were two rooms facing each other with another room further to the back of the house.
Towards the right was a door which led to a study that adjoined the room on the right. It was always locked and was the object of my childhood curiosity as I heard that my Tito Ramon kept his library there. Further back were the back entrance with the screen door and the dining area leading to the kitchen below. Near the kitchen was a grilled porch with a wrought iron door which was sometimes referred to as sampayan (laundry drying area) or “dungeon.”
The house of Manalo
A grand wooden staircase leads to the second floor living room with Narra panelled walls topped by pierced calado tracery, and beautiful Kraut stained glass panels with the face of Christ as centerpiece. One of the second floor bedrooms could have been a sanctuary as it had a tabernacle-like structure and mirrored wooden built-in cabinets with ornate carvings in the Art Deco Style. The room opened to a balcony overlooking the gardens where Bishop Manalo must have greeted his brethren Iglesia ni Cristo members. Adjoining the Sanctuary Room was a beautiful vintage bathroom which connected to what must have been Bishop Manalo’s bedroom. There were two more bedrooms on the second floor, one with windows facing the garden, the other with a spiral wooden staircase leading to the tower room and attic. Back in the late 1960s, buildings as far as the MERALCO Building in Ortigas could be viewed from the tower room window.
A corridor accessed through the living room leads to the kitchen on the left and the dining room straight ahead. From the dining area, one could go to the back entrance staircase on one side and a door leading to a second floor balcony on the right. A concrete staircase which was already blocked off as far as I can remember led down to the back garden. As Maur Aquino Lichauco recalled in an interview, Iglesia ni Cristo founder, Felix Manalo, had a stable of horses in his Broadway Ave. property and her brother, Ninoy, who was then still a young boy and a good friend of Manalo, would go horseback riding with him on afternoons.
At the foot of the back stairway was the entrance to the air raid shelter with a tunnel which exited towards the adjacent property. When we were kids, the openings to the air raid shelter were always boarded up and we were constantly warned not to even try going inside as big sawas or pythons were said to have nested there. In the early 1990s, my cousin opened up the air raid shelter and called in the Malabanan Siphoning Service to suck out all the dirty water and sediments from within. After all the muck and dregs were removed, he had the tunnel lit up with fluorescent lamps and inside, water started gurgling from the floor of the tunnel, as clear as spring water. Once, when Cory Quirino visited the house to shoot an episode of her magazine show, Citiline, for ABS-CBN’s Studio 23, I accompanied her inside and was I surprised to find it so nice and cool with no sawas making their presence felt.
A white lady appeared to me
From the time I was a child, I have been witness to frightful supernatural occurrences in our family compound. I remember very vividly when I was around four, I would wake up at dawn at the same time as my Yaya and ride my trike round and round the sala of our house at the Broadway compound when, lo and behold, a ghostly white lady appeared at our screened front door, staring at me. I called out to my Yaya to tell her what I had seen but before she could come to me, the apparition vanished just as suddenly as it appeared.
Another time, when I was already in high school, I was sick nursing a fever and reading Stephen King’s vampire novel, Salem’s Lot, when I suddenly had goosebumps and felt an evil, eerie presence. Suddenly, a black-cloaked female figure swept past through me and just as suddenly vanished into thin air
I was also in my teens and lying in bed with my younger brother, Miguel, when out of the blue we both saw a severed hand suddenly grasp the top of the window curtain, opened the curtain and just as suddenly closed it. We both just closed our eyes and made talukbong with our blanket and forced ourselves to sleep. It seems spirits would not let go of me. I was already in my thirties and had just returned after staying in the U.S. for several years when while sleeping alone in my bedroom, I opened my eyes to see the figure of a man and a woman at the foot of my bed, eerily staring at me.
But the most frightening moment I’ve had in that bedroom was when I had a sort of near-death experience—when I felt my soul leaving my body and, propelled by a very strong force, was led to a tunnel at the end of which was a Christ-like figure being bathed in very bright rays of light. When the figure turned to me, I had a very strong feeling it was not my time yet and had to go back. Shortly after, I awoke, shaken by my otherworldly experience.
While my personal encounters with the supernatural occurred mostly at our home in the same compound, my kin who lived at the main house had even eerier close encounters with these spirit entities. A cousin, who lived on the ground floor of the main house for many years, had several such eerie encounters. One evening, she was in the bathroom with her older brother and about to brush her teeth when she saw the disfigured face of a woman with curly hair, big eyes, and no upper lip, teeth exposed, staring at her. Scared, she told her parents about the experience but her mother dismissed it as just a product of her imagination. Her father, who was interested in psychic phenomena, on the other hand, told her to speak with the spirits when she saw them again and ask what it is they want.
Sometimes my cousin would just feel the presence of spirits around her or hear them whisper her name. Sometimes, they would appear in her dreams. One recurrent dream involved someone who looked like a minister or bishop going around the house, blessing the rooms. Thereafter, she would have two more encounters with the supernatural in the so-called “dungeon” or sampayan of the main house. One time it was a white, vapory entity in the shape of Casper the Friendly Ghost; another time it was again the woman with curly hair, this time garbed in a dress with a billowing petticoated skirt printed with red roses.
Her sister had another ghostly encounter, also in the sampayan: “I don't believe in ghosts but when I was small I sleptwalk and I remembered walking to the sampayan (at the back of the kitchen past the maids’ room) in the middle of the night and was talking to someone or a group who wanted to play with me. There was a dog house and I sat on the roof and then got bored and went back to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I thought it was a dream but the maids got scared when I slept walk that night. Might be some playful spirits who wanted to play with me.”
My brother Tomas’ family also stayed on the ground floor of the main house and had similar eerie experiences living there. While he could only feel their presence, my niece, Bonita, had a close encounter with a spirit entity in that house when she was about five years old: “One scary evening in the main house, I woke up in the middle of the night when I heard someone calling my name asking me to come close to the window. We were sleeping with the window open in the bedroom, which was near the first floor kitchen. I thought it was a joke but the voice was persistent and went from a sweet melody to a scary wicked stern voice asking me to come closer. It was a woman’s voice. When I approached the window it was a dark silhouette in a cloak. So I ran out of the room to my yaya’s room as fast as I could.”
Nuno sa punso and other family matters
It was also in this house where their brother, Enzo, who was just a baby then was discovered to be suffering from Wilms Tumor and had to have one of his kidneys removed. Somebody remarked it was the handiwork of elementals who resided in the house. They later discovered a punso or mound of earth where the nuno or dwarf was said to reside inside a closet underneath the grand staircase. No one dared to remove the punso.
Bonita also recalls interviewing her Lola Teresa, sister of my mother who lived in the upper floors of the main house, for her history class. Her Lola Teresa told her that a Japanese man lived there during the war with his comfort women. She would see the old man in ghost form wearing a plain white T-shirt in the second floor. This must be the same male entity with hairy legs and dressed in karsonsilyo who used to haunt the maids who slept in the tower room. Sometimes, he was seen descending the spiral staircase from the tower room to the second floor bedroom immediately below. One time, a maid named Trining, seemingly possessed by a spirit, called out to us from the second floor balcony while we were playing in the garden. She dared us that she was going to jump from the balcony. We didn’t believe her. In an instant, she fell to the garden in great pain. Later we found out that she was pregnant and lost her baby.
In recent years, an exorcist was called to bless the house and rid it of its malevolent spirits. On the way to the house, however, the exorcist’s car broke down. When he finally got the car to run and arrived at the house, he felt the overpowering presence of evil spirits in the house which he tried in vain to vanquish in the Lord’s name.
It has been over two decades since I last stepped into that house at 42 Broadway Ave., New Manila, Quezon City. The last time I was there was a happy occasion. It was New Year’s Eve and three generations of the Reyes family gathered in the old house to celebrate together as a family. The house had been beautifully renovated, layers of paint had been stripped off walls, columns, and arches to reveal beautifully grained wood which were stained light and varnished. New tile roofing was installed and the wooden and colorful encaustic tile floors polished. We were all so merry—dancing, chatting, kissing, and hugging. We were one big happy family. One big happy family until inheritance issues tore us apart.
Hopefully, whatever spirits which have taken a stronghold in the house shall finally be vanquished and our family will once again be reunited, to celebrate happy occasions together, with the ghosts of battles past behind us.