‘Ghost tourism’ birthing at former Clark US base

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    Trees seem to bend their branches to welcome tourists into a purportedly haunted, abandoned hospital at the Clark Freeport. Photo by Ding Cervantes

    CLARK FREEPORT – The old abandoned hospital, the huddled three pine trees known as Tres Marias, the Lily Hill, an old cemetery area.

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

    In conversations appropriate to whatever is scary on All Saints’ Day, local folk remembering their dead in cemeteries are likely to bring up these places.

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

    Mabalacat, Pampanga tourism chief Guy Hilbero said that thrill-seeking tourists seek out these areas 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, now often celebrant for requiem Masses in nearby Sto. Rosario parish church in Angeles City, downplayed belief that searching out haunted places could lead 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,” he said in a text message.

    Hilbero noted that in many parts of the US, ghost tourism has caught on, he said, noting “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 like the Queen Mary ocean liner and Roosevelt hotel, he added.

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

    Hilbero dismissed fears that a haunted reputation would drive away investors in this Freeport.

    “Places which are 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 identified the former site of an old cemetery within the grounds of the Mimosa Leisure Estate here as among the most haunted here.

    “That used to be the site of an old cemetery whose remains were later moved to the present American cemetery near Clark’s main gate,” he said.

    Hilbero noted that a building, whose construction was started in the 1990’s after the Americans abandoned Clark, has never been finished on the exact site of the former cemetery.

    “Employees in the area report frequently seeing ghosts or hearing unusual sounds in that unfinished building. There’s no doubt it’s haunted,” he stressed.

    Also known as haunted is the abandoned US military hospital near the commercial area hosting duty free shops here, he said. The three-story building, he noted, has already been visited by American ghost hunters who featured it on their television show in the US.

    The hospital’s basement used to serve as morgue for bodies of Americans killed during the Vietnam War, pending their being flown to their bereaved relatives.

    Hilbero also noted the so called Tres Marias, referring to three pine trees known in Kapampangan as “aguso” along the road towards 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 have seen unusual number of accidents, so may motorists either honk their cars or make the sign of the cross when passing by them,” he said.

    The Lily Hill, also in the area of duty free shops, was the scene of a fierce firefight between the Japanese and Americans during the last world war, and many died there, he recalled.

    “The hill used to be haunted but unusual manifestations have ceased after prayers and other ceremonies started to be held there on yearly basis,” he noted.

    For his part, Santos said that “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 local folk that even when pre-Spanish era Filipinos worshipped ancestors, “there is no report on the connection between visiting haunted houses and demonic possession.”

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