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Sifting through the ruins of Hotel Nevada |

Sunday Lifestyle

Sifting through the ruins of Hotel Nevada

- Tony Perez -
Twelve years and three months have passed since the double earthquake of July 16, 1990 that devastated Baguio and other parts of Luzon. It brought down a number of high-rise establishments, among them Hotel Nevada, a six-storey building with a basement parking lot. At least 26 persons perished there. The disaster was, to owners Endong and Edna Nevada, "a terrible nightmare" that would not go away.

Six years later, Endong and Edna thought that the dust of the disaster had cleared. They began building Nevada Square, a low-rise shopping arcade with 27 shops, in the same location of their old hotel: the corner of Loakan Road and Upper Session Road, in Baguio City. An uptown, upscale operation housing a variety of food and beverage outlets, recreation and retail stores, offices, and service providers, Nevada Square is a tiny global community that is definitely a far cry from the ’60s. It seemed that the dust of more than a decade had cleared. Well, almost.
The first signs of distress among the tenants of Nevada Square occurred during a casual discussion of strange incidents that they suspected were of supernatural origin.

Ronaldo Alegre, a night watchman of Atlantic Security, heard disembodied conversations on the upper floor of the arcade at dawn. On one occasion he saw two unfamiliar children – a boy and a girl – roaming the square who vanished afterwards. He smelled the odor of burnt candle wax. At another time, at 3 a.m., he saw, through the glass windows of Alfredo’s Steaks Baguio, an old man in his 70s and a boy of four, sitting quietly at a table, in the dark. Ronaldo unlocked the door and entered the restaurant, but by the time he did, both the old man and the boy had disappeared.

Sharon Castro, an employee of Gold Barre Dance and Fitness Center at the arcade, went to the female employees’ rest room. It was 8 p.m. Upon entering one of the cubicles, she heard the toilet flush in an adjoining cubicle. There was nobody there. She hurriedly stepped to the lavatory, only to witness one of the taps rotate slowly by itself, as if someone were using it.

Nico Cawed, an antique bead collector and furniture resource specialist, was working through midnight outside the Atenara Café and Museum Shop when he heard a loud crash of cutlery in the adjacent Sports Tavern. He inquired about this the following morning, but was told that no cutlery had been delivered to the tavern.

Lionel Hernandez, a waiter at the Red Lantern Chinese Restaurant, once saw "an old man" sitting and "leaning forward on a table" inside the arcade’s administration office at 11 p.m., even if the office was closed for the night.

Peter Guiagonia, a university professor and regular visitor of Nevada Square, saw "someone peeping" through a hatch in the ceiling of one of the shops and "a lot of feet" outside the window of the male employees’ comfort room. The incidents were investigated but it was established that there were no people in both venues at both times.

At least three witnesses reported coming upon an old man in a suit staring angrily at them. They described him as "covered with blood," and "it looked like his limbs had been torn apart."

Testimonies from other store owners, shopkeepers, patrons and visitors indicated telephones ringing at odd hours during the night which, when answered merely emitted dial tones; lights blinking violently; the appearance of muddy footprints on newly-mopped rest room floors; fluctuations in the volume of a restaurant’s sound system; and intermittent visions of crowds of spirits gathering in the central parking area.

Other personnel reported that a baby was "constantly crying" in the basement area and a woman "wailing" in the FedEx office on the upper floor. Endong himself attested that, after the first big wave of the earthquake, the rescuers saw a woman trapped in the same location where the FedEx office now stands. A slab of cement had fallen over her legs and she was "wailing for help." The rescuers were unable to get to her in time. As they negotiated the descent to assist her, the second big wave occurred, compelling them to move to safety. When they came back for her afterwards, they saw that she had already expired, having been covered under more debris.

The tenants of Nevada Square speculated that the spirits of the victims might still be earthbound, and crying for help. They consulted their landlords, who kept neither records nor photographs of the old Hotel Nevada, preferring to have no memories of the disaster. Only through the persistent requests of the tenants did they accede to host the Spirit Questors to check out their arcade. Thus, we were invited to Baguio City by tenants Lisa Araneta, co-manager of Alfredo’s Steaks Baguio, Malou Flores, proprietor and general manager of Sports Tavern, and Myt Gupit, proprietor and general manager of Baden Powell Hotel, and KC Nevada, a daughter of Endong and Edna.
A Call For Spirit Questors
I asked Eloisa San Juan, director of the Spirit Questors, to announce a call for volunteers for a quest on Oct. 25, through Sunday, October 27. Per our standard operating procedure, our call disclosed only the quest time frame and not the identities of our agents, the quest location, and the quest mission.

Nine Questors responded to the call. Surprisingly, four of them had a medical background: Tina Tayag, a graduating student of B.S. Nursing at Manila Doctors College; Connie Allones, a nursing graduate of Mary Chiles College; Mike Luy, a sophomore student at St. Luke’s College of Medicine, and Rhea Angeles, an occupational therapist at the Philippine Rehabilitation Institute. The other five Questors were Elo Rebollido, a freelance artist and theater arts teacher; Chi de Jesus, associate producer for MTV Asia and co-manager of Giggles Bar and Restaurant in Cainta; Sheila Medallon, formerly an albularyo’s (native healer’s) apprentice and now between office jobs; Dolly Bernardo, a senior secretary at a leading legal firm; and Raven Villanueva, a young movie actress. Of the nine Questors, Raven and Rhea were trainees.

Joining up with us in Baguio City were two members of Outpath, the Spirit Questors’ chapter in Baguio City: Melvin Garcia, a regional branch assistant of Metrobank, and Malen Catajan, a staff member of Skylanders, a monthly newspaper. Also from Baguio were two members of the original 1990 rescue team: Dr. Manuel Quirino, now head of the Emergency Room of the Baguio General Hospital and Joseph Florendo, now area marketing manager of Global Critical Hospital Supplies.
Psychic Scanning
Following a briefing at Nevada Square at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, the Questors and the Baguio volunteers walked through all levels of the arcade to do psychic scanning and identify high-energy spots where they would form circles later that day.

Dolly and Raven accessed mostly from astral memory the time prior to and the time immediately after the onset of the disaster. Raven saw, from the middle of the square, a party scene, a man with a "flat-top" haircut in a barong Tagalog and black pants, and a chubby girl in a gown with her hair tied up in the back. Raven saw this girl eventually run for cover under a table. She also saw that the carpet in the lobby was red. Dolly described the feeling of panic in the environment, the sudden rush of people to the lower level area, crushed bodies, rescuers descending through apertures among the ruins, and corpses being hoisted through a common exit area.

Sheila encountered a seven-year-old boy who came up to her, "crying and looking for his mom." In the Brew Yard Bar and Grill, which was undergoing massive renovation on the lower floor, she saw "many dead bodies." She heard cries for help and pleas for water. She felt pain on the left side of her body and felt that she could not breathe. She also heard a voice say, "Hindi nila alam na ganito kami karami."

Also in the Brew Yard, Rhea met a tall man with a boy and intuited the name "Bong Ramos."

Elo encountered two spirits in the basement area: a screaming girl and a male dressed in a suit who was just standing to one side and staring at the girl. He reported that there was a lot of "emotional energy" on the upper floor of the arcade, where he saw the spirits of a male foreigner, a female foreigner, a child, and a woman who gave her name as "Zeneida Medina" and who seemed to be searching among the ruins for "a heart-shaped seed" that she had lost during the quake.

Chi encountered a family of spirits–a mother, two little girls, and a nursemaid–in the Gold Barre Dance and Fitness Center. According to him, they all ran away from him upon realizing that he could see them. He met an angry male spirit who addressed him in a local dialect, "two foreigners, a man and a woman," and a chubby, six-foot male who repeatedly shouted to him, "Take me! Take me!" Chi also encountered a thin hotel employee in his late 30s, wearing long hair and a trubenized white shirt, seated at a typewriter beneath the FedEx office, who gave his name as "Atode"; a stately woman in a formal blouse and skirt, in the back area of the upper floor, who identified herself as "Aida"; and a woman who identified herself as "Merced" and who said that she communicated regularly with one of the volunteers, a woman named Ivory Norton, part owner of a fish and vegetable trading company. Ivory corroborated this. Tina saw "a curly-haired mestiza" pinned against one of the walls of the FedEx office. She also saw the image of a man with an attaché case walking towards a sofa.

Connie encountered a woman named "Merced," whom Chi and Ivory had also seen. This was the same woman whom Endong said was the one whose legs had been crushed by a slab of cement. She said that the woman was trying to pull herself up and that she was "very, very angry." Connie intuited the names "Benilda," "Antonio," and "Ramil Zerrudo." In the Brew Yard, she met a chubby mestizo with gray hair dressed in a barong Tagalog.

In the Brew Yard, Chi saw "many crushed bodies" on the floor. He reported a male voice shouting "Michael, Miguel, or Mark." Later, during the actual quests, the members of the rescue team affirmed that, on the day of the disaster, they heard frantic relatives shouting those very names–Michael, Miguel, and Mark–in that same location.

On the lower floor of the arcade, Mike encountered a male spirit wearing a blue, long-sleeved shirt and blue pants who kept saying that he was going to "a happy gathering." He also met a spirit who identified himself as "Alfredo Ngayngayen from Tinglayan." This spirit was angry, and blurted out to Mike, "Ukinam! Why now? Dapat, noon. Kung noon sana, may nagawa kayo sa buhay namin." Yet, he kept asking about his family and wanted to know whether they were still live in Tinglayan.

Mike sensed that there were more than 1,000 spirits in the area–not only those of the earthquake victims but also those of tribal ancestors in the vicinity. Alfredo Ngayngayen asked for a ceremony and a padugo (chicken blood offering) which, according to him, would "open the door" and allow all the spirits to pass through.
Spirit Questing At Nevada Square
I divided the Questors and volunteers into three circles. The first circle had Elo as primary channel, Raven, Malen and Ivory as secondary channels, Tina as facilitator, and Myt, Marion Ruiz of Café San Luis, Ronald, and Gina Ramos, writer of ABS-CBN’s Pipol. In the second circle were Chi as primary channel, Melvin and Rhea as secondary channels, Connie as facilitator, Sandra Delgado, a Manila businesswoman, Malou, Nico, and Sharon. The third circle had Mike as primary channel, Dolly as facilitator, KC, Dr. Quirino, Mr. Florendo, Allen Madrid, researcher of Pipol, and Sandy Allan, an oracle reader of Café San Luis. Since there were more spirits than the groups could handle, I instructed each circle to zero in on one spirit. Elo’s circle would go for "Merced," Chi’s would eventually go for a spirit named "Mac," and Mike’s, "Alfredo Ngayngayen."
Quest #2,088
The first circle located themselves on the landing of the west wing of the arcade, below the FedEx office. The group began their session by reciting a prayer for "Merced." Most of the members of the group felt "heavy pressure" on different parts of their bodies. Tina sensed that there were many spirits moving around the circle. Raven sensed "Merced" approach the circle and then stand behind her. However, "Merced" eventually sent her messages through Ivory.

Ivory felt that "Merced" was "inside" her body. She said, "Masama ang loob niya. Hindi niya matanggap na wala na siya. Marami siyang gustong sabihin."

After the members of the circle introduced themselves to "Merced" and tried to convince her to let go of her tragic ending, Elo took a card from his Shaman Wisdom Cards and drew "Coming Full Circle." The members of the circle did a round of emotional truth for her, sharing their own experiences of being hurt and of having to "let go." Tears were shed, for "Merced" and for the members of the circle. It was Marion, who had recently lost a seven-year-old son to leukemia, who was most helpful in purging "Merced’s" emotions through her own, assisting "Merced" in "crossing over." Later, Malen and Gina remarked that not only "Merced" but also the individual members of the circle seemed to have been liberated from their emotional burdens.

"Merced" asked that a Mass be said for her and her fellow victims "at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21." She also asked that "two priests who are fraternal brothers" concelebrate the Mass. Before saying good-bye, she imparted individual messages to each member of the circle.

The second circle located themselves in the Brew Yard pub area. The members sensed that there were many spirits around them. Most of the members felt "a heaviness" and "pressure" on different parts of their bodies.

Among those who approached the circle were a female spirit who gave her name to Melvin and Connie as "Sheila." She was a young woman in her 20s. Sheila informed the group that she was waiting for her mother and her sister. Melvin replied, however, that her mother and sister had already "moved on." Like "Merced," "Sheila" asked that a Mass be said and that three candles be lit for her.

The "playful" spirit of a British national who identified himself as "Ted" informed the group that he was "waiting for a girl" when the building caved in. "Ted" claimed that he was well aware that he was dead yet decided to stay on the premises. He asked Melvin for a drink, specifically, whisky.

The spirit that Chi focused on and that the group assisted to "cross over" was a male who gave his name as "Mac." According to "Mac," the day of the double earthquake was his "waking day." When the first earthquake hit the city, he was stunned by the chaos around him and by the frenzy of people running round in circles. Chi said that, like the others, "Mac" was an angry spirit. "Hindi siya dapat nandito. Umuwi na siya pero pinabalik pa siya, kasi, may kailangan." Chi saw "Mac" selflessly leading people out of the building during the earthquake, after which a chunk of debris fell on him. Melvin trembled and felt "Mac" lying over him. "Mac" said that he saw someone "peep through a hole" and saw him after the first earthquake. He called out for help but no one heard him. While he was trapped, he felt a hand grabbing at his leg and knew that there were many other victims around him. "Mac" also informed the circle that a psychic visited the ruins of Hotel Nevada, but the spirits refused to communicate with him.

The group led "Mac" through the process of visualizing a hole and passing through it. Rhea said that Chi went into trance and "nudged" "Mac’s" companions, a woman and a child, to follow him. Melvin saw "Mac" holding "Sheila." Chi later reported that other spirits followed "Mac" though the hole, including those who "looked dazed" and were "still in shock." One female spirit, who was standing across Connie, asked for help and listened to Connie’s instructions to follow "Mac" and the other spirits through the hole.

The third circle located themselves in the kitchen area of the Brew Yard. Mike called for "Alfredo Ngayngayen" who had earlier said that he was from Tinglayan, in Sagada. "Alfredo" claimed that he knew KC personally. Mike described "Alfredo"’s appearance to KC. KC, who was 12 at the time of the 1990 earthquakes, said that she did remember such a man.

Mike asked "Alfredo" for his tribal name but couldn’t make it out when it was given him. Dr. Quirino conversed with "Alfredo" in a native dialect and inquired whether he knew a certain Dr. Cruz, a friend of his, in Sagada. "Alfredo" calmed down upon hearing this, as the tribes of that region knew this Dr. Cruz. He said that he was Kalinga, but married a woman from Sagada.

"Alfredo" asked that a memorial be raised on Nevada Square in memory of the victims. He asked that a padugo be performed in exactly the same way his tribespersons do it.

A female spirit then approached the circle, a "Banglay" from the Mountain Province. She was very upset that the members of the circle were not "of high enough rank" to be conversing with them, and asked that Allen wear Lisa’s necklaces of antique Igorot trading beads, for the duration of the quest. The "Banglay" informed the group that she had been fighting for the recognition of the tribal people. She asked that a separate memorial be erected for them, and that the memorial bear different flowers representing the different tribes.

The channels were not aware that the month of November would be marked, in Baguio, by a grand peace pact among tribes in a celebration replacing the annual Grand Cañao, officially declaring an end to all tribal war, with separate tables laden with food for all of the tribe members who had passed away.

During this portion of the quest, Sheila received an invitation from the tribal spirits to partake in their secret knowledge. Sheila, however, initially felt that she was "being abducted," and so did not accept the invitation.

"Alfredo" informed the Questors that he and his companions were still alive after the first wave of the earthquake, but perished after the second wave because the rescuers did not come for them. Mr. Florendo bemoaned the fact that, during the aftermath of the disaster, the number of rescuers considerably diminished as soon as the VIPs had been retrieved from the debris. Edna Nevada herself overheard from her "foster" Philippine Military Academy cadet, who was on the rescue team, that "more people could have been saved had the rescuers not been instructed to give priority to the VIPs." It is for this reason that Mr. Florendo decided to devote the rest of his life to mass casualty management, ensuring egalitarian rights of victims in rescue operations.

The Questors held simultaneous oracle festivals that Saturday night at Alfredo’s Steaks Baguio, the Atenara Café and Museum Shop, Sports Tavern and the Red Lantern Chinese Restaurant. At least 200 people came for the occasion. Lisa, who regularly travels to Ifugao, Bontoc, the Mountain Province, outlying areas of Benguet, and the Ilocos lowlands, generously destranded one of her necklaces of trading beads and distributed these to the Questors as souvenirs of their visit to Nevada Square–or was it Hotel Nevada?

At 1 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27, the Questors and volunteers formed one big circle in the rear parking lot behind the arcade and performed a cleansing and releasing ritual for all of the other spirits on the former disaster site.

Undoubtedly, the most widely publicized disaster sites of the double earthquake in Baguio City were the Hyatt Terraces and Hotel Nevada. Yet, there were other sites that were ravaged by the earthquake: the University of Baguio, the fourth floor of which collapsed, the FRB Hotel, Skyworld Commercial Building, Hilltop Hotel, Burnham Hotel, and the Aurora Theater. All of these places suffered hundreds of casualties.

Ironically, as in every disaster, the longer the passage of time, the farther we are brought away from closure.

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