I bet you had been to Baguio City a million times already. You probably had scoured every single nook and cranny of it – went artsy at BenCab Museum, paddled a boat at Burnham, took selfies at Minesview Park, stayed up all night looking for the best ukay ukay at Harrison Road, horseback riding at Wright Park, picnic at Camp John Hay, hoard pasalubong at Good Shepherd Convent, photo-op at the Botanical Gardens, shop for silver at the Public Market, street-danced during the Penagbenga Festival, food-tripped on its best restos and eating places, the list goes on and on. There. All crossed out on your Baguio to do list.
But have you ever tried to scare yourself and check the ruins of Diplomat Hotel on top of Dominican Hill? I tried once and even to this day, Im still having goosies when I thought about my experience.
Before the Diplomat hotel became a hotel, went into ruins and gain its notoriety as one, if not the most haunted place in the Philippines, it was first a vacation house that was built by the Dominican Order when they first arrived in 1910. This 3-storey vacation house sitting on a 17-hectare hill that was eventually called the Dominican Hill was acquired by the Order from American owners who first came in to Baguio and developed the place. The vacation house was constructed by 1915. That time, during its completion, it was considered the grandest and the most expensive stone structure in Baguio, the time where most of the buildings and houses are made of wood, galvanized iron and cogon grass. It was shortly became a school and was named Collegio del Santissimo Rosario but due to very small enrolment, after two years of operation, it was reverted back as the vacation house of the Order.
During the Second World War, the place witnessed macabre and gruesome deaths when the place was bombarded by the Imperial Army as people who wanted to escape from the Japanese forces seeked refuge on the hill. The building along with the surrounding area sustained extensive damage. Soon after the war, reconstruction started and the building was restored in 1948.
By 1973, the place was acquired by Diplomat Hotels, Inc. After the acquisition, the interior of the structure went into remodelling and was turned into a 33-room hotel. Much of the exterior though, and the over-all character of the building was retained. Among the things that remained was the 12-feet Gyronny cross of the Dominican Order sitting on pedestal on the upper façade of the building overlooking half of the city.
The hotel was then managed by Baguio-based entrepreneur and celebrated faith healer Tony Agpaoa, native of Rosales Pangasinan. A person who have a personal flair to the dramatics, he went on to become sensational and controversial Filipino faith healer to emerge in the 60’s until the 80’s. During those times, majority of the guests of the Diplomat Hotel are Europeans who seek alternative healing. He amassed great deal of wealth in the process and was featured in several international publications, films, magazines and documentaries. He died in 1982 because of stroke. Diplomat Hotel ceased its operation right after Agpaoa’s untimely death and was closed to the public. The structure eventually fell into neglect and disrepair.
Dominican Hill since then had been declared off limits to outsiders. Soon enough, local residents would claim that Dominican Hill is now a haunted place. Some people who live nearby claim that at times they could hear the banging of doors, windows, clattering of dishes, and voices of people screaming and sometimes laughing in the middle of the night. Perhaps this hair raising occurrences could be attributed to the spirits who decided to dwell on the place, along with the spirits of former owners and the patients who came to the place for hopes of being cured but didn’t. Some also say that Dominican Hill is haunted by the spirits of the people who were killed there during the war.
At the moment, the place is attracting new kind of audience. Thrill seekers and ghost hunters who would dare go to the place at night to check if the place is really haunted flocks the hill. Blogs and word of mouth about unexplained and strange things happening to those who dared check the ruins fuelled the renewed interest on the place.
A strange pat on my back
The following narrative is a personal experience of the author. Please take everything with a grain of salt
Upon reading an article about the ruins online, I told myself I would make a point to visit the place next time I would find myself in Baguio. Aside from the fact that a friend mentioned to me once that the place is one of the favorite spot of local photographers to shoot, given its nice location and vantage point. So one weekend, as summer started to end, I decided to go up to Baguio. From Session Road, since I have no idea where the place is, I just flagged a cab and told him to drop me at the old Diplomat Hotel. Huge black gate greeted me when I reached the Dominican Hill. I just gave the guard a nod as I made my way to the entrance of the old building. Free entrance. Cool.
I remembered it was about to rain that time and it was cold. After passing the gates I was greeted by the biggest ten commandment tablets I’ve ever seen. Right beside it is a Jewish chapel. After taking few shots on the surrounding area, I made my way inside. It was noisy, I saw that there are people who are working inside. From my left side, where a small garden stood, I could hear the powersaw cutting huge trunks of pine trees and the place smelled really nice because of it. Good, I told to myself. I don’t need that much of bravery or stupidity to check the entire place on my own.
I soon came face to face with a carpenter working, I tried to smile but he seemed to avoid looking directly at me, thinking that I might be disturbing them, I looked for the steps that would lead me to the second floor. Upon reaching the second level, as I checked some of the rooms, I saw on my peripheral vision an image of a girl in a dress ran in one of the rooms. I turned my head on the direction where she went, thinking that maybe there are kids playing around, I soon noticed that the entire 2nd floor was eerily silent. I was expecting to hear shrieks and giggles of kids playing but after few minutes standing on the hallway, I realised I was alone. I haven’t heard anything that would indicate that I have company on the second level. By this time the noise from people talking, sawing of wood and pounding of hammer on the ground floor stopped.
I soon forgot that I was getting a bit scared when I reached the third level of the building. This is an open area when you will find the Gyronny cross sitting on a pedestal and facing the very nice panorama of the surrounding area. There are parts of it that are barricaded. If you would cut all the surrounding pine trees in the area, you will see an unobstructed 360 degree view of Baguio. I told myself that it would be a sight to behold during night time when all the lights are up. After killing few actuations on my camera, I decided to go down.
The first thing I noticed when I made my way down is the coldness of the place. I told myself maybe because the whole place is damp, lost on that though, that’s when I felt someone or something pat my right shoulder. Instinctively, as my reflex, I spun on my right side to see what or who it was. By this time, I felt the hairs on my nape stood up and I am having goosebumps on both my arms. I hurried to reach the entrance door. You can imagine how relieved I was when I reached the concrete pavement at the entrance of the building. “Wow” I said to myself. That is something.
Getting There and Away
If you want to commute, look for jeepney terminal that pass through or bound to Dominican Hill.
To go to the terminal from Burnham Park, just walk until you reach the intersection of Harrison-Abanao-Magsaysay. Continue walking to the Abanao Street to the side where Abanao Square is located (opposite the Hotel Veniz). Pass the intersection of Abanao Street and Zandueta (just in front of that big LED screen). Walk straight to Zandueta Street, and then turn left. You would see a lineup of several jeepneys bound to several routes. Look for the jeepneys with singages “Dominican Hill Road” or the “Dominican Hill”, ask if it will pass either Lourdes Grotto or Diplomat Hotel. Inform the driver right away to drop you off at the foot of the stairs to Lourdes Grotto or at the intersection where the path leads to Diplomat Hotel. From there its a few minute uphill walk until you reach the black gate of the Diplomat Hotel.
Still, the easiest way is to grab a cab at any point in Baguio City and tell the driver to bring you to the Old Diplomat Hotel on top of Dominican Hill.
An indie movie
When I was already in Manila, I found out that there is an indie movie made that revolves around the place. The movie, entitled, The Diplomat Hotel top billed by Gretchen Barretto was an official entry to the 2013 Cinemalaya Festival. You can watch the movie at iFlix. You can check the trailer here, here or here
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