The driver brought the car up an incline that was slick with rain.
We were on a hill.
“Ser, andito na po tayo sa Diplomat Hotel.”
I awoke from a fitful nap on the backseat, haunted by thoughts of deadlines looming back home. The Baguio chill seeped through the car windows, chilling the back of my neck.
“Marami ba kayong dinadalang mga turista dito?” I asked, as I surveyed the view outside—a manicured garden that paved the way towards the mossy ruins.
“Actually, Ser, ngayon lang ako nakapunta rito. Hindi ko alam na bukas na pala ‘to para sa public.”
And with that, I readied my clip-on fish-eye lens.
While other travelers fancied breweries, coffee shops, and theme parks, I went for destinations with a paranormal bent. (So sue me, I’m weird.)
From the few articles I’ve read, the Diplomat Hotel was one of the most haunted places in the Philippines. It also happened to be the subject of a 2013 horror film starring Gretchen Barretto.
The facade was massive that you would crane your neck in awe. A cross loomed up above — that if you haven’t read up on the place, you’d confuse it for an old church or a hospital.
But yes, the bones of a beautiful building was still there.
A security guard in a barong smiled at me. He asked me to sign on a guestbook. It turns out that the land titles were rewarded to the City of Baguio and the local government had decided to make it a tourist attraction free of charge.
I overheard someone say that the place was strangely a go-to location for cosplay photoshoots.
Upon entering the ruins, I was greeted by a set of Igorot chairs, ones that made up for a makeshift lobby. On an adjacent wall was a gallery of black-and-white photos that told the history of the building.
It turns out that the structure was built in 1913 as a retreat house for Dominican friars. American forces bombed it to cinders during the Japanese Occupation, before a private owner turned it into the swanky Diplomat Hotel in 1973.
As they say, a place becomes haunted when it has a history of violence.
Did I encounter spectral forms? A headless nun? A floating priest? A phantom soldier?
Nah, not really.
There was too much of the architecture to see that I couldn’t be bothered with these things.
As other tourists spooked each other with ghost stories, I went around the abandoned hotel imagining what a grand place it must have been in its heyday. Beneath the new cement, you can still see the decades-old masonry peeping through. Visions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby danced in my head.
An endless stream of water filled my eardrums. The lobby was flanked by two gardens that had massive water fountains, ones that would equal those you can find in a European piazza. Thankfully, the LGUs had restored these water features for tourists to have a centerpiece for their selfies. It’s a funny feeling, alright — beads of fountain water misting your cheeks.
On the second floor, you could see the cuts of the individual rooms — they were modest but the ceilings were high. The bathrooms had Victorian-style bathtubs and tiles straight out of a ‘70s porn film. I could think of a hundred films I could shoot in those rooms.
What caught my fancy the most though was the rooftop patio. In spite of the graffiti and the crumbling stonework, it was still a marvel to behold.
I was afforded a 360-degree view of the cliff sides of Baguio, which despite the pollution and deforestation, were still dotted by an embarrassment of coniferous trees. At that height, the city smog couldn’t get into my lungs.
After a few minutes of just losing myself in the hypnotic mountain views, I bid the haunted hotel adieu.
I sat by the garden outside for another hour, making a toast with phantoms past and present.