Perched at the edge of a small town two hours outside of Manila is an old prestigious university known for its school of medicine and veterinary school. Within the campus of the 100-year-old institution which will go unnamed, is an auditorium used as a gymnasium by day. It is noted for its terrifying history as a death camp for Filipino soldiers detained by the Japanese during WWII.
In the summer of 2011, I was invited to visit the infamous building which students avoided by night. A friendly journalist accompanied me on this trip and a respected alumni and aspiring dancer. It was 5 in the afternoon by the time we entered the building as the last drama class of the day had departed and the final basketball game had wrapped up on the makeshift basket ball court outside.
In the eerie afternoon, we entered the massive auditorium and ascended the stairs to the second floor. In the tropics, the sun does not make its way to the horizon until 8 or 9 pm. Grateful for the remaining daylight, we ascended the mahogany steps to the silent balcony toward the rear of the auditorium where dance practices were held. The smell of musty furniture assailed us in the empty rooms. Except for dust moats floating in the rooms, it was empty.
Towards the front and onto the auditorium’s stage, I started snapping photographs to catch what naked eyes may not reach. We were rewarded with “orbs” in two photographs as my dancer friend leaped on the stage in mock performance. It is this stage that has terrified several students through the years with sightings of beheaded monks marching to their death toward the “dungeon” beneath the wooden stage. Reports of dark streaks that smell like dried blood mar the floor. We inspected dutifully, but found none in the light of day. I was told it reappears at night.
Behind the stage, we planned on descending to the basement. Just a few months ago, chains were heard clinking by drama students who failed to follow the warning to vacate the building by nightfall. Our passage was blocked by debris, thrown by custodians to block the passage into the lower depths of what some dubbed “torture room.” Under the stage, reports of screams, moaning and terrifying yells of the dying were heard as recently as a week back from passersby outside the building.
The building has been reportedly blessed. The journalist reports that past the debris that blocks the path to the basement, skeletons were found chained to the walls. Forensics revealed the bones to be old, circa 1940-43. Research into the beginnings of the building revealed its tortured past as an internment camp for Filipino prisoners, chained and tortured by Japanese soldiers.
In the dead of night, when students have long gone to local bars and hangouts, the building’s lone security light shines as a beacon to passersby to remain vigilant and to keep their distance. Freshmen on a dare continue to enter past the hour when the sun has set. It is, after all, a gymnasium, used for practice when there are no performances on stage – when the chairs are folded and rolled away.