An old haunt: For real or reel?

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A real haunted house? The Ilusorio Mansion in Bulacan (Photo by NR Ramos)
A real haunted house? The Ilusorio Mansion in Bulacan (Photo by NR Ramos)

A real haunted house? The Ilusorio Mansion in Bulacan (Photo by NR Ramos)[/caption] Much has been said about the Don Ramon Ilusorio Mansion in San Ildefonso, Bulacan – chiefly, that it is supposedly haunted by spirits. It doesn't help that most of the locals, who actually refer to the house as (insert chilling sound effects here) the Bahay Na Pula, adamantly attest to such lore even today. We first heard about the house from a college friend who once shared a story about how he supposedly saw an apparition in the window of the old house – a seemingly long-haired woman in a white flowing dress, floating mid-air. We're not sure if he told us why or how he came to experience such a scary scene but we must say, it was an effective yarn that strengthened out fascination on the Bahay Na Pula. Some friends agreed to visit the place but with various preoccupations, the plans fell through. After graduation, we went on separate paths and our interest in the Bahay Na Pula waned in the ensuing years. We were reminded of the Mansion a few years later when the place was used as a set for a few episodes of the campy ABS-CBN horror series "Oka Tokat." The show ran from 1997 to 2002 and starred the likes of Diether Ocampo and Jericho Rosales. It is considered the longest-running horror series on Filipino television. Three years ago, we were reminded again of the Bahay Na Pula when it was featured in an episode of "Motorcycle Diaries," followed a year later by "Kapuso Mo...Jessica Soho." Our interest to visit the house was rekindled, mainly wanting to see, once and for all, what the fuss was all about. The clincher came early this year when TV5's "Kasindak-Sindak" supposedly caught an image of a ghost on camera during a visit. One weekend, early this year, we took a short drive there. Imagine our disappointment when we found the gates to the mansion closed. After all these years, and all the media mileage, we all thought it would have been made open to the public already. A few hours of waiting for someone to talk to or let us take a peek inside proved futile. Then, a few weeks ago, we passed the house on our way to visit a friend. We were lucky enough to finally catch a lone figure opening the gates of the Ilusorio mansion. We stopped and asked him if he could let us in and, not surprisingly, he agreed but only after we handed him 300 bucks. He made it all worthwhile, nonetheless, acting as our official tour guide. He refused to divulge his name, but he shared that he is the son of the original caretakers hired by Don Ramon himself. According to him, rumors about the house being haunted started a few years after World War II. Apparently, the house played a very important role in the Japanese occupation of Bulacan, serving as a military garrison where Japanese soldiers allegedly tortured and killed Filipino guerrilla fighters. He added that the place might have also served as temporary housing place for "comfort women." From the outside, the house looked quite imposing indeed, with its bright red facade burning brightly against the midday sun. Indeed, based on the stories, one could only imagine what sort of cruel horror it had witnessed. The man unlocked the door and a cold gust of air greeted us. It was kind of sad to see the inside of the house, with the smell of guano permeating the whole building. There were holes everywhere and all the furniture were gone, except for a few antique chairs and a dirty bathtub. There was dust everywhere, and the second floor felt like it was ready to give up the ghost (pardon the pun). The caretaker said he is trying his best to preserve the house given its history but that he could only do so much. He feels like the owners might have forgotten about it already or that they simply don't care anymore. Asked if he had experienced anything eerie there, the man said no. He said he has been living at the back of the house and has never heard or seen anything that could be considered spooky. He also shared that he used to play in and around the house as a little boy with nothing untoward ever happening. He admits having heard certain "stories" from neighbors, though; the kind that include people hearing crying and moaning and running and marching from inside the house late at night. Still, he insists that it's all in the head and that he would only start believing it if he experienced it himself. We explored every nook and cranny of the house that day, eager to experience something, anything, that would somehow validate the rumors but... nothing. Well, one might argue that we visited the place at the wrong time; or that, being a loud bunch, we unwittingly scared off the ghouls. Who knows, really? In the end, we were just happy to finally visit a place that was sort of a big deal to our once young and curious selves.

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