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The ghost of Balete Drive

/ 11:24 PM October 29, 2013

My very first assignment when I joined the Manila Chronicle in the mid-1950s was to write an article on the “white lady of Balete Drive” then driving the country crazy. Decades have since passed but the “white lady” continues to mesmerize Filipinos. At least two movies have been filmed about her, the latest starring Angelica Panganiban as the “white lady.”

The press was then agog over the “white lady of Balete Drive” because the latest “victim” was a captain of the Quezon City Police Department. This was no ordinary citizen concocting or imagining a ghost to attract attention. This was no less than a responsible police officer, a captain.

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At that time Balete Drive, which runs from España Extension to Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City, seemed made to order for ghosts. The street was poorly lighted; the big trees lining it blocked light from the lampposts. Although the houses on both sides of the street belonged to well-to-do families, no light from their houses reached the street because they were all surrounded by high concrete walls. So the street was dark, lonely and deserted. And spooky.

Probably another reason Balete Drive was spooky were the trees lining it. The trees were baletes—hence the name—which, according to Philippine folklore, are the favorite haunt of ghouls and ghosts.

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Even now, hardly anyone walks its sidewalks. The residents all own cars. There are a few stores near the corner of Aurora Boulevard, but there is none for the rest of its length. It is better lighted now and most of the big trees have been cut, but motorists enter it at night with a bit of trepidation that they would see the “white lady” flagging them. Her reputation still terrorizes the living.

Almost 50 years ago, as a young journalism undergraduate, I was assigned to write an article about her. Who was she? Why was she haunting Balete Drive? What did she want?

My first stop was the police captain, who gladly consented to an interview. His story: He was driving in a patrol car on Balete Drive when he saw this woman thumbing a ride. She was all dressed in white. He took pity on her because the street was dark and lonely. It was no place for a woman. She could be held up, raped, or even killed there, and no one would know.

So he stopped and asked her where she was going.

She said he could drop her off at the corner of España Extension, where she could get a ride home.

He told her to get in, and she got into the back seat.

At the corner of España Extension, he turned around to tell her they were there. She was gone.

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Isn’t it possible that she got out the other door as soon as she got in? I asked.

Impossible, the captain replied.  The doors were locked. They were still locked when he checked after she disappeared.

The other “victims” had similar stories: They gave a ride to a hitchhiking “white lady,” who disappeared when they looked back.

Who was she? Why was she haunting Balete Drive?

I located a woman who claimed to be a close friend of the “white lady” when she was alive. She said she was killed in an accident on Balete Drive—a hit-and-run case. There were no witnesses. The driver was never caught.

Maybe she wants her killer caught, the friend said. Her soul could not rest until he was brought to justice. But whoever he was, he could be dead by now, or at least very old. With no clues, the police closed the case of the woman’s accidental death.

Through all those years after he killed her, how did this driver feel? During the uproar over the ghost haunting Balete Drive, did it ever enter his mind to give himself up and put her soul to rest? Apparently not. And he may still be out there reading this.

Wouldn’t it be a very interesting story if he would come out now and admit to his crime, a very old man stricken by his conscience and who wants his soul to be at peace when he leaves this world? The statute of limitations has overtaken his crime, so he can no longer be made to answer for it. And it would put to rest the soul of the ghost of Balete Drive.

* * *

Tomorrow (Thursday) is Halloween. When children come to your door with “Trick-or-Treat for Unicef” collection boxes, don’t give them the usual candies. Give them cash—generously. It’s a fundraising campaign for the children of war-stricken Zamboanga and earthquake-devastated Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor. The funds raised will help them go back to school, give them access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and ensure their good health and nutrition. The campaign brings special meaning to Halloween by giving children an opportunity to learn the value of helping other children in need.

What will your donations do? It will help: provide children with books and school supplies to stay in school; save children from acute malnutrition; and provide children with emergency and family supplies in times of calamities.

“Unicef relies entirely on voluntary donations to fund its work for children in the Philippines and worldwide. With Toy Kingdom’s support, we hope to raise more funds and awareness on how children can help other children in Zamboanga, [Bohol and Cebu] through Trick-or-Treat for Unicef. The situation in [these provinces] profoundly affected a large number of children, so every contribution counts and everyone can do something to help,” pleads Unicef Country Representative Tomoo Hozumi.

Dubbed as the original Kids Helping Kids campaign, Trick-or-Treat for Unicef is celebrated by children and families worldwide  and has raised more than $170 million to help children in need globally. Launched in the Philippines last year, the campaign has raised over P400,000 and distributed over 4,000 donation kits in malls and participating schools.

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