MANILA, Philippines?A unique walking tour of historic places and buildings in Manila not only lets people get in touch with the past, but also with the ghosts of the past, through a nostalgic trip around the city.
?Most of the historical buildings listed in the Postal Heritage Walking Tour are said to be inhabited by spirits who used to work there,? says postal heritage tour guide and Filipinas Stamp Collectors? Club (FSCC) vice president Lawrence Chan.
The tour takes participants on a stroll around Manila?s historical monuments, using postage stamps as a map to these hidden gems of the past and, sometimes, to stories of spirits who still linger in our midst.
?Some of the tour participants feel their presence as we explore the buildings. We only ask them to pray for the souls,? Chan said.
Most ghost sightings are in three of the 14 tour legs, particularly at the Metropolitan Theater (Met), which is still undergoing renovation, the Philippine Postal Corp. office in front of Liwasang Bonifacio and the old Aduana building on Muralla Street corner Magallanes Drive in Intramuros.
At the Met, the ghosts previously seen by people responsible for maintaining the theater were ethereal sightings of former stage actors and crew members who are said to dwell within its walls.
The ghosts reportedly haunt the rehearsal rooms and the stage of the Met.
The postal office?s ?spirit-workers? on its third and fourth floors, on the other hand, are frequently seen by Philpost employees.
Men dressed in the uniform of the guardia civil (soldiers during the Spanish occupation) still haunt the old Aduana building inside the walled city of Intramuros, according to old-timers. Far from the costumed security guards guarding the present-day Intramuros, these figures are luminescent and appear within the ruins of the old Customs House.
Chan explains they are harmless spirits who have not been able to let go of their past routines. ?They are just traces of people who lived here before,? he said.
Some tour participants gifted with extra-sensory perception have requested the tours be conducted at night or before dusk so they could communicate with the spirits.
?We advise them to coordinate with the building administrators so they are given permits,? Chan said, adding that the postal heritage walking tour is only allowed to tour the buildings in the mornings or afternoons.
But the ghostly apparitions are just a part of the total experience of the tour, which hopes to resurrect the dying art of philately in the e-mail age through leisurely strolls around historic sites around the country?s capital often depicted in stamps.
The FSCC vice president stressed that the walking tours aim to ?show participants how diverse and rich our culture is.? The tours are usually scheduled every third Sunday of the month, but can be held on other days, depending on requests made by students or other interested groups.
The tours sometimes coincide with the FSCC meetings on Sundays at the Postal Museum and Philatelic Library where philately enthusiasts trade or sell rare stamps.
Organized by stamp collectors in October 1994 as the Manila Stamp Collectors? Club, the club is aimed at catering to hobby enthusiasts. It was later renamed FSCC in January 2000, and has some 70 active members to date.
The postal heritage tour held recently drew more than a hundred bloggers, photography lovers and students.
It kicked off at the Met, which is considered a jewel of the art deco genre and the grand dame of Manila?s theaters, designed by Filipino architect Juan Arellano. The architect is also the designer of the present post office.
Another destination, the Arroceros Forest Park, a portion of the old Mehan Garden, houses flora and fauna which have been featured in Philippine stamps. It used to be a trading post during the pre-Hispanic era.
The Aduana or Customs House is where goods, including mail, were brought from overseas and declared. What is seen now of the then ?Intendencia? are its ruins in the heart of Intramuros.
The building was built from 1823 to 1829, demolished in 1872 and replaced with a new structure four years later to house the customs offices, the Intendencia General de Hacienda (Central Administration), the treasury as well as the casa moneda (mint).
It was destroyed by American artillery fire in 1945 during the battle for the liberation of Manila from the Japanese Army, and was restored to be used later by the Central Bank of the Philippines, the national treasury, and the Commission on Elections. It was completely ravaged by a fire in 1979.
The Puerta Isabel II monument and gate is marked by the bronze statue of the Spanish queen which was first erected near the Teatro Alfonso XII (now the Metropolitan Theater) in Arroceros (now Liwasang Bonifacio) on July 14, 1860.
Moves to dismantle the statue after the queen?s downfall was thwarted by a sympathizer who hid the monument in his home. In 1896, the statue resurfaced and was erected in front of the Malate Church where it stayed for some 70 years until Typhoon ?Yoling? toppled the statue. The monument was erected on its present site during the visit of then Prince and now King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1975.
Liwasang Bonifacio was also part of the itinerary. The park, known as the venue for militant rallies, used to be known as Plaza Lawton until it was renamed in the 1960s after the plebeian hero Andres Bonifacio.
The Manila Cathedral inside the walled Intramuros, another tour stop, was also previously featured in stamps before its bell tower was constructed.
The final leg reveals a virtual trove of philately treasures housed at the Postal Museum and Philatelic Library within the Manila Central Post Office compound.
The postal museum, the oldest in southeast Asia, is tucked on the third floor of the building.
It was organized in 1992 to enable the public to view the country?s rich repository of stamps and items used by the post office through the years, including old mail boxes, typewriters, awards, paintings, stamps, philatelic magazines, as well as books and catalogues.
Stamp collecting is not as popular as it used to be in the snail mail era, but the FSCC is still hoping that the tour will not only enable people to know about the hobby but also about Manila?s rich and historic past.
The FSCC can be reached through Manila P.O. Box 2986 or through 7355001.