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Manila Film Center, Pasay City, Philippines

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 21

Built under the rule of the infamous Imelda Marcos in 1981, the Manila Film Center stands at the epicentre of a collision between tragic fact and local folklore.

Under a tight deadline to complete the building before the inaugural Manila Film Festival, crews were working around the clock pouring concrete for the building’s 900 + cement pilings. On 17 November 1981, the scaffolding supporting the 169 workers at the site collapsed into wet cement. Reports conflict as to the reason, from dangerous conditions to the Marcos regime needing to draft a press statement before allowing rescuers access, but most agree it was nine hours before rescue crews were allowed into the site.

Local rumours immediately began to swirl about people believed to be forever trapped in the cement, but continuing work to complete the building before the deadline. Some workers were believed to have been rescued or to have escaped on their own, most were believed to have been killed and entombed within the structure, then buried under additional concrete as construction continued.

Witness Lina Nabor stated in an interview with MB Research that: “It was raining when it collapsed. I just heard from the other vendors who were positioned close to the construction site that the bodies of those who were buried alive there were not retrieved. There were many of them. They got only those on top of the pile.” Mrs. Nabor also indicted she had heard the sounds of crying and singing coming from the building well after the film festival had ended and that several blessings and masses had been offered at the site, which seemed to appease the restless spirits who have since quieted.

After an earthquake in 1990, the building was abandoned and stood empty for ten years before a theatre company took over the lease. Since that time the theatre company’s manager has reported that people “feel things,” such as an unseen hand touching them or odd feelings of not being alone in an empty room. He has also indicated that the basement of the building, where the infamous accident took place, is a “creepy place.”

But this may be a case of local urban myth becoming better known than fact. A 2005 documentary crew for the television show i-Witness for the GMA Network did extensive research into the accident at the Manila Film Center. They reported having traced all 169 victims of the accident in which a dozen were killed (rather than the believed 169). They also found that all of the bodies were retrieved and properly buried.

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