The Haunting Legend of Manila Film Center

The Haunting Legend of Manila Film Center; The Horror Behind The Tragic Theater

They say that a country's art appreciation can be tested by how they preserve, renovate, create and take care of their art museums, film centers, theaters and other venues that exhibits the rich arts background of their own country. Philippines is no stranger on getting global recognition when it comes to different art forms. According to different people who were able to witness the golden age of Philippine Arts, Philippines was really doing good in that specific department and art forms from the said country is getting global attention. But did you know that there was a widely known urban legend that we can trace back its roots to one of the most ambitious projects the former first lady Imelda Marcos created? Let's go back in time and reminisce the terror of what Filipinos dubbed as "The Philippines' Tragic Theatre", The Manila Film Center.

The Manila Film Center is a national building located at the southwest end of the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay City, Philippines. The structure was designed by architect Froilan Hong where its edifice is supported on more than nine hundred piles, which reaches to the bed-rock about 120 feet below. The Manila Film Center served as the main theater for the First Manila International Film Festival(MIFF) January 18–29, 1982. - Wikipedia

The Manila Film Center was really an ambitious project for the Philippines during its time. Because prior to the creation of Manila Film Center, the Philippines actually did not have an official national film archive.  It was only on January 1981, that the former first lady Imelda Marcos planned the construction of the building that will be known as the first Manila Center. It was under the supervision of Betty Benitez, the spouse of the former Deputy MHS Minister Jose Conrado Benitez, they also organized a group to pursue the project. The building was then designed to have two components which were the auditorium and archives. The film center's foundation was set on reclaimed land near the Manila Bay. It is also worth noting that the deadline for the structure was too tight, to the point that they required 4,000 workers, working in 3 shifts across 24 hours. One thousand workers constructed the lobby in 72 hours, a job which would normally take six weeks of labor. The Film Center opened in 1982 costing an estimate of $25 million. It was also speculated that Imelda Marcos made a lot of revisions as well while in the middle of its construction. They want to rush the said construction for the film festival's inauguration. Now, that's what you call an ambitious project! But if you think that everything is doing well for the said film center, an unexpected accident happened which triggered more speculations, intrigues and even gave birth to an undying urban legend.


November 17, 1981, 3:00 a.m. - A devastating accident occurred during the construction of the Manila Film Center. Its scaffolding suddenly collapsed, and at least 169 workers fell and were buried under a quick-drying wet cement. The accident took a lot lives. A blanket of security was immediately imposed by the Marcos administration, and neither rescuers nor ambulances were permitted on the site until an official statement had been prepared. The rescuers were eventually permitted to go inside the accident site 9 hours after the collapse. In terms of the number of casualties, there's contrasting data being shared by different sources. Rumors says that 168 got killed while Marcos-controlled press conforms only 28 got killed by the accident and all of them got proper burial assistance.


According to the urban legend, the construction was still continued despite the accident. Despite the requests of numerous mothers and wives who were pleading Betty Benitez (the one in charge for the project) to have them claim their relatives' dead bodies, they weren't allowed and it was ordered that the construction cannot be delayed as its deadline is fast approaching. Another creepy tidbit was that it was even ordered that they just "pour the cement" on the casualties' bodies which makes them buried on the building's foundation. Some even theorized that there are some who were buried alive. All of it was allegedly to make way for the fast construction to meet the deadlines for the Miss Universe Pageant and Imelda Marcos' Film Festival. It is worth noting that the Philippines that time was under Martial Law, that's why the families have no power to have their requests granted and just accepted defeat as they grieve for their dead relatives. That's the turning point for the urban legend to be born as the spirits of the fallen workers was said to be roaming around the film center, looking for justice, haunting everyone who steps foot on the film center and worse, take revenge on the people who have wronged them. A few months later the accident, Betty Benitez was killed in a very bizarre accident on her way to a Tagaytay trip one night. The death of Benitez intensified the people's belief that The Manila Film Center was indeed haunted. It was said that Imee Marcos, presidential daughter called in for paranormal medium for help. The medium was known to speak on his native dialect but when he is under the paranormal trance, he spoke in English. What he said gives a chilling vibe to anyone who hears it:

That's not the only creepy story that involved Manila Film Center, a viral story during its time was known by everyone. The story goes like this, a visitor to the film center arrived and he was approached by a stranger who hands him over a calling card. The stranger instructed the visitor to call the number on the card and inform them that he is fine and he is close to going home. The visitor called the number and he informed the wife of the stranger but it got all creepier when the wife informed the visitor that her husband was already dead and was part of the Manila Film Center accident. The visitor got shocked by what he have heard and he even got more shocked when he noticed that the stranger suddenly disappeared.

Some even shared their creepy experiences on the haunted film center. According to some sources, a lot of people who steps foot on the center hears frightening whispers from the raging ghosts. Some even get to see apparitions of the ghosts, warning them not to go to the center anymore. Some can even see the dead workers without limbs, head, arms, etc. roaming around the film center. Now, that's totally freaky!


The creepy urban legend created a lot of buzz and it aged well that even if 3 decades have passed, media people, spectators and paranormal enthusiasts cannot forget it. The haunting in the Manila Film Center even inspired different forms of media to create intriguing yet terrifying plots that revolves around the haunted center.
Filipino author Gilbert M. Coronel released a novel entitled "Tragic Theater" in 2009. The book first tells of the 1981 incident. It heads to 1999 when the government's plan to build an IMAX theater in the structure is handed to Department of Tourism coordinator named Anne Marie "Annie" Francisco. The first priority is to rid the place of the trapped souls so she seeks the help of a priest Fr. Marcelo, known for his radical cleansing methods and a group of spirit communicators. Anne and Fr. Marcelo lead the group in their mission only to discover too late that an evil presence took sanctuary inside the building long ago and fed on the anger and misery of the victims' souls. A bishop later helps with the task when Anne is possessed by the evil entity. - Wikipedia

The book was well received by readers which gave way for a film company to make a full-length film about it. A movie version of Tragic Theater was shown on January 8, 2015. Its trailer got released on December of 2014 and it even got BANNED initially. The film needed to take down some scenes in order to even release its trailer. The trailer scared a lot of people who have seen it. The film stars Filipina Actress Andi Eigenmann as the protagonist. Shockingly, Andi met an accident while shooting the film. She fell off from a harness while she's up in the air, good thing that her co-actors came in to rescue her. Many people believed that it was a way of the ghosts to haunt the film staff and crew.


May it be true or not, no one can deny that the urban legend of The Manila Film Center indeed sent shivers down our spines. The story is too gripping that you find it so real amidst the numerous claims that no such harsh things did happened at all.


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