Balete Drive in Quezion City, Manila, is home to some very intriguing tales. From haunted houses, supernatural things in trees and it’s famous White Lady Legend, it gives many a local a few things to think about if they have to go near it at night. Balete Drive, which connects East Rodriguez and North Domingo Avenues, gets its name from the Balete trees which line it’s route. The Balete tree is particularly significant in Filipino folklore. It is regarded as a haunting area for evil spirits. Other entities which are meant to inhabit it include Philippine elves (dwende), smoking giants (Kapre) and other fairies. The trees are also believed to conceal hidden kingdoms invisible to humans.
Engkantos, environmental spirits able to take on human form and associated with ancestors, are believed to dwell in Balete trees by Filipinos. The advice regarding Engkantos is as follows:
“Filipino beliefs say that engkantos dwell at the famous Balete tree. Never say anything if you hear music coming from a Balete tree for the engkantadas are having a party. Don’t laugh or point to a Balete tree for there live fairies and enchantresses. If you cut a Balete tree, you will be meted death as a punishment for you have destroyed the place where the fairies and the enchantresses dwell. If a person was taken by an engkanto, drum beatings near Balete trees are done to recover lost persons.” (Source The Manila Bulletin Online Balete Drive)
The first Balete Drive ghost story relates to three haunted houses which were located in the area. These were mansions reputedly haunted by their former owners who refused to bequeath them to succeeding generations of their families in case the heir married someone from a poor background. The owners didn’t want their homes to fall into the hands of poor people. As a result, the houses were left empty. Another weird tale is that taxi drivers driving alone in the area at night have reported repeatedly seeing the same house and then driving along the same road for an hour. The only way to break it would be by making the sign of the cross and saying prayers.
A famous ghost encounter in Balete Drive involves a boxer called Marcelo Nonan (ring name King Tut) who witnessed a ghost trying to stop a Coca Cola truck at the corner of Sampaguita Street and Balete Drive before vanishing. Nonan stopped and got out of his car to find no one was there, though he and his friends reported seeing a banana stalk move in the still air.
But it is the legend of the White Lady that has captured imaginations (and nerve endings) for the last few decades. It is a story with very complex origins. One variation has it linked with a large Balete tree which used to stand in the middle of the Drive. Here a taxi driver is supposed to have attacked a young woman on her way home, and it is her ghost that is the White Lady. Another variation has it that she appears at midnight between Bougainvilla and Mabdo Streets, though she has also been seen at 3AM. This was where the body of a female student at the University of the Philippines was supposed to have been dumped after she was raped and killed by a taxi driver on her way home. She arguably appears to taxi drivers because she is seeking to avenge her death, although it’s been claimed she stopped appearing because her killer died.
A story also involving taxi drivers, though it is unclear if it is part of the White Lady legend, features taxi drivers who pick up a pretty young girl asking to be dropped off close to Morate Avenue. As they drove along the road, she would tell her sad love story. When the driver asked what became of the boy in the story, they noticed that her image started to fade in the rear view mirror. Upon looking in the back seat, they would find she had vanished.
Another similar story definitely associated with the White Lady, has been passed around by taxi drivers, in which they also pick her up. She is often described as wearing a white gown. Drivers would notice her face changing while she sat in the back seat. Either it would become half skeletal or would be half covered. After experiencing this, those cabbies would refuse any fares wanting to go to Balete Drive. The White Lady has also been reported as appearing a bloody figure to taxi drivers.
Another origin of the White Lady story is that she is the spirit of a young Filipino woman who was raped and murdered by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Whatever version you take, the legend has become a major part of Manila folklore and is so pervasive that it was turned into a horror film by Peque Gallaga in 1988 called Hiwaga sa Balete Drive.
The two different ways in how the White Lady story came about are also interesting. One theory is that the story was cooked up by a newspaper reporter circa 1953 when there were no interesting news stories. Another is that it was the basis of a school project by university students wanting to see how quickly rumours spread. Either way, the story quickly spread, and more and more people came forward seeing they had seen the ghost. The story of the young rape and murder victim might have a basis in reality, though that is unclear.
The story caused a huge stir when it first broke, and it eventually became Manila’s most famous ghost story. One source states that Quezon City authorities sent police to Balete Drive every night at the behest of local residents who said they were being attacked by noisy ghost hunters arriving in the area. However, police officers also came forward reporting that they too had seen the White Lady! A woman, believed to have been the ‘ghost’ was eventually caught and found to be mentally ill, after which the police closed the case.