The last time my father brought me to San Miguel, Bulacan for pastillas shopping, he pointed out a house that was some kind of landmark in the area. It was an old house located along the highway and very near the boundary of San Ildefonso and San Miguel. Based on the architecture, it was probably constructed during the Spanish era and, by the looks of it, abandoned for years.
It was nearing sunset when I first caught sight of the house. The sky behind the house, framing it, was an eerie red-orange. It was a spine-tingling scene with the trees surrounding the house bereft of leaves and seemingly as dead as the house that it ornamented. By any standard, it looked like a haunted house.
That scene would play inside my head for years. And I was not even alone in my thoughts because the house got its share of publicity when it was featured in an article in Manila Bulletin’s Panorama magazine years ago. Like I said, it stood there like a landmark, undisturbed, uncared for but still fully erect.
After Speedy and I got married, I would discover that he too had seen the house on several occasions. His father hailed from Nueva Ecija and they had passed by that house many times on the way to Talavera.
Years and years later, we would tell our kids our stories about seeing that house. I would describe the scene to them and we would all relish the mock horror — much like telling ghost stories around a campfire or in a purposely darkened room to heighten the scary experience.
Last weekend, on the way home from an overnight stay at the Mimosa Leisure Park, I suggested making a detour. Instead of going straight home, why not exit the NLEX at Pulilan and drive on to San Miguel? It’s been years since I’ve been there, missed the rows of stores selling pastillas, and we could finally show the kids the haunted house that we have told them about so often.
And so, we went. It was a long drive. San Miguel is the last town of Bulacan before crossing the boundary of Nueva Ecija, and right before San Miguel is San Ildefonso. As soon as we entered San Ildefonso, I started to get really excited. It was Speedy who saw the house first. Yes, it is still standing.
But that was about the only accurate thing from my description and the girls started giving me those accusing looks. Not only were the trees around the house in full bloom…
There was also a Monobloc chair in front of the house.
Talk about ruining kids’ expectations, eh? Imagine the suspense… after years and years of hearing the story about the haunted house, this was all we got to show for it.
And that’s not even the worst part.
There were no rows and rows of pastillas stores in San Miguel. There were a few stores named Sevilla’s, apparently named to take advantage of the name of the most famous pastillas maker in the country. They weren’t even selling pastillas by Sevilla’s but a hodge podge of pastries from different food manufacturers. These stores were just reselling.
What the heck happened to the pastillas industry in San Miguel, I do not know. The numerous stores we passed by were selling powdered laundry detergent. But, being me, giving up is a hard thing to do. Speedy was not in a good mood anymore but I said just go on straight, we’d find them. A snippet of conversation:
“They should be around here,” I said, “small quaint stores constructed in front of houses where the pastillas are made… Old women — grannies — minding the stores…”
Speedy answered in a half-amused, half-exasperated tone, “How old were you then? Those grannies would all be dead by now.”
Ummm… well, true. Okay, so I didn’t object when he said, “Can we turn back now?”
To put a crappy end to a crappy story… Okay, the photos above were taken on the way to San Miguel. You can see from the angle of the house that we had passed by the house already when Speedy parked the car on the curb. Sam was taking photos from the backseat through the open window.
So, on the way back, we passed the house once more, this time going the opposite direction, and we were able to see the side that is not visible in the photo. What do you know? There was a tricycle parked there.
So much for quaint pastillas stores and haunted houses.
Months after I posted the story, a reader who calls himself “Multivector” told me:
“I live in San Miguel and I’ve heard quite a few things about the house you are referring to. There has been numerous documentaries shot in that house including that one of GMA (I witness).
“People around San Miguel and San Ildefonso tagged the house with the name “Bahay na Pula” (Red House) apparently because of it’s structural color.
“In the 40’s when the Japanese occupied most of San Miguel and San Ildefonso, they used the house as a garrison (place for torturing slaves) and took a couple of hundred women there and made them sex slaves and they we’re later known as ‘The Comfort Women’. All of them were raped, some of them, killed. My grandmother’s sister was one of them (though I’m not convinced hence the lack of proof).
“Anyway, people around the two towns (San Miguel and San Ildefonso) believe that you have to blow your horn while passing by the house as a sign of respect because of the numerous vehicular accidents which happened in front of the house. People say that a white lady passes across the highway as you run along in your car thus causing accidents. I don’t know if it’s true but based on my experience, it is.
“One time on our way from Manila, I was driving our owner type jeep with my wife and mother, we passed the house and I forgot to blow the horn. This white thing crossed the road and passed right beside me. I don’t know if that was it, I thought it was smoke but i don’t recall smelling any. Shadow? No way, I was the only one on the road at that time and the was no light on the post. My headlights? It was right beside me, remember? Whatever that thing was, I didn’t utter a single word from the Red House until arriving at our house in San Miguel.”