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Saturday, February 6, 2021

Manila Film Center And The Abandoned Souls

The mystery behind the Manila Film Center and the buried souls lies beneath the grand mausoleum.

Named after the fifth president of the Republic of the Philippines Manuel Roxas, Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City is known for its scenic view, beautiful sunset in the stretch of coconut trees. Famous for its commercial buildings, hotels, restaurants, and park, it is also where the grandiose Manila Film Center was constructed at the southwest end of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. A place full of glory, fame and wealth, turned into mystery, curse, and tragedy.

Manila Film Center Ghost

Built under the Marcos regime in 1981, designed by architect Froilan Hong, and conceptualized by then senior technology officer at the Technical Resource Center Ramon M. Ignacio, the lavish Manila Film Center started its construction. It was said to host the first-ever Manila International Film Festival in the following year, the Asian version of the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Formed after the astonishing Parthenon in Athens, Greece, with a $25 million budget, it was indeed a beyond belief project of the first lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos.

Known for her high-class taste, she wants to make Manila the cultural center of the east and an International market for films.

Construction of the said epitome of culture and arts of the Philippines started with a very tight time table, no expense was spared to meet the deadline. Started in October 1981, the Manila Film Center needs to be done in less than three months to host the MIFF on January 18-29, 1982. There was a striking plan for the building. A 360-degree theater to showcase the Philippines' historical and tourism scenes, film laboratory and film archive, and even asked for the UNESCO's assistance for some consultations.

Manila Film Center, Amazing Show
Image: Amy's Crypt

With over 4000 laborers who worked three shifts within 24 hours, work done in six weeks was made possible in 3 days, but it took its toll on them-resulting in an unsafe work practice due to rush, one of the most tragic accidents happened.

On November 17, 1981, at around 3:00 AM, scaffolding collapsed, causing hundreds of casualties. Wounded workers scattered, some fell from the platform pierced with metals, and others were buried in the debris; while some were caught into the quick-drying cement from the waist down, it was chaos that resulted with 169 deaths.

A security alert was enforced to cover the area; neither ambulance nor rescuers could enter the building during the critical hours. After 10 hours, press and authorized rescuers were allowed to get inside the building. There were rumors that some volunteers sang Christmas songs to those laborers that were buried from waist down to keep them sane before they can get them but eventually died after they were rescued.

Manila Film Center Tragedy
Image: Were Proofs

Was there a cover-up? Why did it take that long?

Because of the deadline they need to meet, and with the news blackout enacted by the martial law, no accurate records of the incident were given. Betty Benitez the then project supervisor, made a disturbing decision. She ordered to have the dead bodies covered in an extra layer of cement and proceed in the construction without a glitch and sealed the Manila Film Center infamy. Months later, Benitez died in a car accident and people who have visited the center said that they saw the souls of the men buried were carrying Benitez's soul.

Amidst everything, the Manila Film Center opened as scheduled, hosting the first Manila International Film Festival in January 1982. With more than 300 guests including Priscilla Presley, American businesswoman married to Elvis Presley, Brooke Shields who was only 16 years old then and George Hamilton. It was said to be an event full of glamour and lavishness.

Although the festival pushed through, the theater was still under construction and laborers were still working up to the last minute. Wet cement under fabulous red carpet, some guests wearing long gowns got some paint in their hemlines and walked on top of the workers' entombed dead body.

Years after, the Manila Film Center became the Department of Foreign Affairs office were some employees claimed to have some spine-chilling experiences. Rituals were casts in the hope that it will drive away the spirits, but it remains haunted. Eerie feeling emanates the building. Mysterious things happen, figures of men are being seen, typewriter sound as if someone is working late, flushing toilets, sobs asking for help and cries of those suffering untamed souls.

Manila Film Center
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The building was abandoned after the 1990 earthquake that hit Manila and the rest of Luzon. And in 2001, the Manila Film Center went under rehabilitation, costing over $15 million. In the same year, the building was used by the Amazing Philippines Theater and produced the Amazing Show open to the public with transgender performers until their lease expired in 2009.

In 2013 a three-hour fire damaged the film center, with no casualties but left the film center an immense amount of structural costs.

After almost four decades, many things had happened, yet the mystery in the Manila Film Center tragedy remains unsolved. For some, it is a mark when the Filipino Films was at its glory. For others, it is a symbol of aristocracy or bigotry? Long as it is there, the mystery of the grand mausoleum lives.


By  Kris De Vera Estrella, IFY Books

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