BAGUIO CITY, Philippines?The 100-year-old Teachers? Camp here may be haunted, but it has not prevented the Department of Education?s special projects office from hosting a Halloween festival at the agency?s partially refurbished training and recreation facility.
The DepEd, which has adopted the tag ?Our Home by the Clouds? as part of its marketing campaign to maximize the camp?s potential, promises a weekend of thrills and chills during the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 event.
Camp visitors ?can look forward to a Halloween celebration that?s filled with fun and excitement,? says DepEd assistant secretary Jonathan Malaya. ?Aside from the traditional cańao, there?s trick or treat, a horror house and other spooky surprises.?
In July 2007, President Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation 1338, declaring 2008 as the ?Visit Teachers? Camp Year.?
The Halloween festival, which started as one of the camp?s centennial activities, aims to make the refurbished training and recreation venue into a year-round tourist draw.
DepEd even invited paranormal expert Jaime T. Licauco to the Halloween event but he turned down the invitation as he was leaving for Poland for a series of lectures on the ?limitless potentials of the human mind.?
In an interview with the Inquirer, Licauco says there is nothing wrong with startling the senses of visitors to Teachers? Camp with exciting Halloween activities.
Do not disturb spirits
However, visitors should ?refrain from ghost-hunting, going on spirit quests or playing spirit of the glass during their stay at the camp which is reputed to be haunted. Talagang notorious ?yan (It?s notorious), ? he says. ?Over the years, I?ve been told by friends and contacts that it?s one of the many haunted places in Baguio.?
Licauco, president of the Inner Mind Development Institute and an Inquirer columnist, adds: ?There are different types of spirits?higher or positive spirits and lower or negative spirits. If one doesn?t come prepared, there may be negative consequences, such as possession. Some spirits may retaliate.?
He says he is against ?calling on spirits just for the sake of fun. They should not be disturbed. If it is they who want to communicate with the living because of some unfinished business, then it is all right to talk to them so they can be at peace.?
Licauco adds: ?The DepEd is probably trying to copy what they?re doing in England where haunted castles have become popular tourist attractions. But these are guided tours, conducted by people who are knowledgeable about the spirit world.?
During the camp?s July 5 tribute to the legendary Thomasites, Malaya told US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and other camp guests: ?When the first Thomasites pitched their tents in these hills 100 years ago, they started a tradition of teacher training and recreation that continues to this very day.?
Thomasites are young and idealistic American teachers who came to the country in 1901 to introduce the US brand of education.
Malaya says ?many of the [best preserved] cottages and dormitories were built during the American period and they?ve retained the original green and white colors.?
The DepEd executive notes: ?Barrows, White, Albert, Pages?these were prominent Thomasites in whose honor many of the halls and dormitories were named after. Here in Teachers? Camp, the memory of the Thomasites is alive and burning.?
?Some claim they?ve never left,? Malaya says in jest, because the camp?s occupancy level is ?over 100 percent at times,? referring to the facility?s ?overstaying visitors.?
?But instead of shooing away the camp?s haunted reputation, I think it?s OK to embrace it because it?s already part of Teachers? Camp lore,? he says.
Crying in the kitchen
Teachers? Camp can accommodate over 1,700 persons in its various dormitories, cottages and guest houses. It has two mess halls and eight conference halls which can seat 3,320 people.
Asked which rooms are haunted, Malaya names, among others, the cottage assigned to DepEd Secretary Jesli A. Lapus.
?It has the most ghost sightings. Camp employees claim you can hear someone crying in the kitchen,? Malaya says in Filipino.
?We stayed there before. My former boss (ex-Secretary Florencio Abad) found it difficult to sleep in his room. He slept on the couch in the living room instead. Sabi niya, ?yun sigurong former [US] secretary of public instruction ayaw siyang patulugin (Abad said the former US secretary of public instruction didn?t want him to sleep),? he says.
Alex Oliveros, the 35-year-old caretaker of the secretary?s cottage, confirms there are ghosts in the premises. ?Meron nagpaparamdam. Lalo na sa guest room sa baba. Parang may dumadaan sa likuran ko habang naglilinis ako. Kalimitan pagitan ng 3 and 5 sa hapon.(There is a presence especially in the guest room downstairs. I feel there?s someone behind me when I am cleaning usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.)?
Oliveros relates his most frightening experience at Guest House No. 1, which is now the camp museum. ?Tuwing hapon nililinis ko ang buong cottage. Isang umaga, laking gulat ko nang makita ko ang bakas ng maliliit na paa mula sa fireplace patungo sa kitchen. Nag-report agad ako sa security guard. Pinatotohanan niya ang nakita ko (Every afternoon I would clean the cottage. One morning, I saw tiny footprints from the fireplace all the way to the kitchen. I reported it to security guard who confirmed everything I saw).?
The bachelors? dormitory is also haunted, according to caretaker Edgar Marso, who is in charge of Cottages Nos. 206 to 211. He has been working at the camp for 22 years now.
Marso, 52, originally from La Union, narrates: ?Minsan naglilinis ako. May sumutsot sa akin galing sa labas ng bintana. Tapos kumatok sa bintana. Nang mag-check ako wala namang tao (One time I was cleaning. Someone was calling to me from outside the window. There was also some knocking. When I checked, there was no one there).?
There are stories of ?a headless priest roaming around the dormitory area? but Marso has declined to provide details about his close encounter with this ghost.
She is not alone
During a recent visit to the camp, Rhea Mae Maningo, staff of the DepEd communications office, stayed at Cottage No. 206, along with a colleague and three newsmen.
She was about to take a nap when she heard footsteps in the living room. She had every reason to be afraid? she was supposed to be alone in the cottage. Or was she?
Sometime in October 2007, a group of public administration students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines had, not just one, but several close encounters with the camp?s ?other? guests.
?I saw a ?white lady? and the bathroom door open and close by itself. The image of a man with broad shoulders, big arms and ample mid-section was caught on video by one of our companions,? says Noemar Tibayan, one of the students.
Do not forget
Even Commissioner Joe Lad Santos of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino had a spooky stay at Teachers? Camp.
?During our brief visit there, I was assigned to a room with six beds. When a [colleague] came to see me that night, he noticed there was another person sleeping in one of the beds. He didn?t bother checking who that other person was. When we checked with the dorm caretaker the following day, we were told I was the room?s only occupant that night,? Santos says.
The former print journalist and komiks writer muses: ?Apparently, the camp?s overstaying guests do not want to be forgotten. That is why, they are making their presence felt.?