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The Bloody History of Bahay na Pula in Bulacan

Its characteristic red hue may imply a gory past.
IMAGE Juan Sinag Cano
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A lone house stands beside the highway near the border of San Miguel and San Ildefonso, Bulacan. In its vicinity, trees of tamarind, camachile, and duhat stand, their leaves littering the pavement. It is a shell of its former self—only the frame and foundation remain of what was once a beautiful house. This is Bahay na Pula. 

The blood-red color, however, seems unfading. Bahay na Pula got its name because the striking hue stood out in a vast green field, where there was no other house in sight. Also known as the Ilusorio House, it was built in 1929 in Barangay Anyatam by Don Ramon Ilusorio, a wealthy man who owned acres of land in the area. The color, however, turned out to be a foreshadowing of the bloody crimes that would eventually take place within its walls. 

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

A Silent Witness to War

During World War II, Japanese forces took ownership of Bahay na Pula and used it as one of their barracks. On November 23, 1944, the Geki Group of the 14th District Army under Japanese Imperial Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita attacked Mapaniqui, Pampanga. The town was suspected by the army to be a stronghold of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap.

The men were rounded up, beaten, and executed. One man had his genitals hacked off and was forced to eat them. The bodies were thrown into a pile and set on fire.

As punishment for the town, the women were brought into the infamous red house where they were raped routinely and repeatedly. Some of them were girls as young as eight or nine years old.

Sisters Lita and Mileng from Mapanique were just two of the women who survived abuse inside this house. In an interview with BBC, the women, who are now in their 80s, recounted how, after looting their village and killing all the men who were suspected of being guerillas, the Japanese ordered more than a hundred girls to carry supplies to the house.

"We thought it was the end of our world. We thought they were going to kill us," Mileng said in the interview.

The sisters were raped that night after moving the loot. Girls who fought back were stabbed by bayonets. The sisters were let go the morning after. Others were not so lucky. Women and girls from Bulacan and Pampanga were forced to live in the house as “comfort women” or full-time slaves.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano

According to the report of the BBC, around 200,000 women were held in captivity and thousands more were raped during the Second World War. This was a practice that was widespread across the Japanese empire in countries such as Korea, New Guinea, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

In Bahay na Pula, the survivors remembered how they were abused inside and outside of the house. Pairs of mothers and daughters were also raped in the same rooms. In a horrific narrative by some of the survivors, it was said that a beautiful girl was the “favorite” of many soldiers and she was raped up to 20 or 30 times in a day. When she tried to escape, she was caught in the bathroom and abused by the soldiers again before she was drowned in a bathtub.

"I don't remember how many men came in. At one point I felt a sudden pain so I fought back. The soldier got angry. He held my head and banged it really hard into the table and I lost consciousness,” Estellita told the BBC.

Estellita had to move to another town after the war so she could forget all the painful memories. Women who suffered the same fate also thought that they couldn’t marry the men in their barrio who knew what had happened to them. They had to move and relocate their families instead of living in shame. Some of them decided not to get married at all.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.
Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

An Ongoing Fight

What bonded the survivors was their fight for justice.They formed a group called Malaya Lola to seek compensation for their losses. However, since most of them are in their 80s and 90s, they're afraid they will never get the justice they seek in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, the privately funded Asian Women’s Fund, an organization providing atonement and support for Japan’s aging victims, did not categorize the Mapaniqui women as comfort women, according to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Because of this, they have not received money nor medical care from this organization.

On the legal front, these women are not winning either. In 2014, the Supreme Court denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Malaya Lola. The group wanted to declare the Philippine government guilty of grave abuse of discretion for refusing to support their claims against the Japanese army for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Despite these setbacks, the women carried on. In November 2016, several human rights group, including Bertha’s Impact Opportunity Fund, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and the Center for International Law, Manila, traveled to Geneva to seek the United Nations' support on behalf of the group.  

Their experiences and ongoing fight for justice were also documented by both local and international media outlets, and most recently, in a Cinema One Originals full-length documentary in 2017. 

 

While the survivors continue to fight, the house itself is facing its own battle. After decades of neglect and even a rumored clash within the family about ownership of the land and house, Bahay na Pula has fallen into disrepair.  

The house’s history did not help its reputation at all. The locals have since believed it to be haunted. While some of its caretakers deny the existence of paranormal activities, there are persistent rumors of ghostly apparitions from the windows and veranda. Some even claimed to have heard cries of help, most likely from the souls who met their end there. People from nearby villages claim they continue to dig up skulls in the area. 

This reputation paved the way for movie directors and journalists alike to use Bahay na Pula as a location for films and TV series, including Okatokat in the ‘90s. For Halloween, shows like Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho, Motorcycle Diaries, and Kasindan-sindak have also investigated the rumored hauntings of the place. 

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.

Photo by Juan Sinag Cano.
According to Encarnacion, to preserve a heritage structure is one thing, but to see a building that reminds us of the bad things that happened to them is another thing.

On the other hand, Bulacan historian Jaime Corpuz said that the local government should be more serious in protecting the heritage and historical structures of provinces. In the same interview with Inquirer, he also proposed the idea that they can still conserve the property and its shell, similar to what Negros did with “The Ruins.” 

With their fates uncertain, both the survivors and the house face the threat of being forgotten. And that in itself is a more haunting thought. 

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About The Author
Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for SPOT.ph and Entrepreneur.com.ph.
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