A cruise along Argonaut Highway that meanders through a mountain road from your house to get to work, a quick drive to Olongapo City through a convenient gate to visit friends, a brief stopover at Royal Duty Free Store to buy groceries on your way back, and late-night visits to the nearby Gobstopper to satisfy your cravings; if you’re familiar with any of these experiences, chances are you call Kalayaan Heights your home – whether you’re an expat or a Filipino resident.
|The winding mountain road that leads to and from the Kalayaan housing district|
Kalayaan Heights, for the uninitiated, used to be the exclusive real estate for high-ranking officers of the US Naval forces which occupied the area throughout the majority of the 1900s. There, they lived with which are still in use to this day.
Both Finback and Grayback Streets, the latter of which is now renowned for the covered basketball court along it, were both named after submarines; Finback Street was named after a Gato-class submarine of the US Navy and Grayback after its namesake submarine and class. Other streets in Kalayaan used an alphabetized convention; with Argonaut standing in for A, Bonita Street for B, Corsair Street for C, and so forth.
|The aptly named neighborhood convenience store for after-dinner cravings of Kalayaan residents|
The most interesting street conversely, was the street that represented the letter D: Diablo Street. After US forces relinquished Subic Bay and faced with the challenge of marketing the then-vacated real-estate, the authorities that took over decided to replace the street name with its current incarnation: St. Michael Street. After all, who would want to buy real estate in Kalayaan if there was a street named after the devil?
|An idyllic driveway leading to one of the many houses in this iconic neighborhood.|
Nowadays, the Kalayaan real estate zone houses more than 10,000 residents – a mixture of people of various nationalities. It is also the location of three educational facilities: the child-friendly Casa Kalayaan, whose community swimming pool is a go-to summer destination for residents and visitors alike, Regional Science High School, and the Special Education Center, the latter two of which were built on the same real estate as Kalayaan Elementary School which once serviced the Naval officers’ children.
Named after the Aeta tribe that used to live in its forests – just as Binictican was – Kalayaan Heights is also the nearest of the three residential area within the Freeport to Olongapo City. Their direct connection via the Kalayaan – Olongapo Gate provides easy access to residents of both areas to each of the others’ facilities.
|Fire Station 6, or more popularly known as the Kalayaan Fire Station|
A notable structure which serves not only as a landmark but also as a symbol of safety and security is the Kalayaan fire house. A quaint building located along the road leading to the Kalayaan – Olongapo Gate, it has kept the surrounding areas safe for decades, servicing both the Freeport and Olongapo City. Another popular location in Kalayaan is the Mountain Woods Resort Inn. Located atop a hill that used to be the US Navy Officer’s Club, it offers a breath-taking view of Subic Bay and its rich forests.
|The charming facade of Mountain Woods Resort Inn.|
As with any other locales though, Kalayaan Heights has its own share of campfire horror stories sure to tingle the spine. Any Kalayaan local would know that the marker that serves as a waypoint between East and West Kalayaan Heights. Of particular interest however, is the old unused guard house that stands just a stone throw away from that marker. According to a first-hand account from a long-time resident, a bloody incident occurred in the vicinity of that guard house which now pre-empted attempts to use it.
It was around ten years ago, when the resident had a driver in his employ, whose name was Rayman. According to him, although competent in his tasks, the driver had a somewhat boastful personality which often got him in conflict with the law enforcement personnel Kalayaan Heights. In addition, his tendency to use his raucous motorbike on his way to his employer’s house often irked the officers who stood guard at the residential area’s entrances. One in particular, an officer named Holanda, was so incensed with him that they would often have heated arguments.
As fate would have it one cold August morning that year, an encounter between the two resulted in a scene of carnage. Back on his way to Kalayaan from Olongapo City after purchasing pan de sal for breakfast, Rayman was accosted by Officer Holanda and his fellows at the old guard house. The officers claimed that the driver possessed a firearm and demanded that he exit his vehicle. The driver vehemently refused and it got to the point that so much traffic was blocked by the altercation that his employer’s wife was called to the scene to intervene. In order to mediate between her husband’s driver and the officers to resolve the stand-off, she entered the vehicle herself.
Ultimately, Rayman listened to her plea and decided to surrender – raising both his arms outside the car window. However, the overzealous officers took this as an opportunity to pull the driver out of the car. The rather violent extraction resulted in one officer being bit by a flailing driver. In retaliation, Officer Holanda who was nearby, took out his sidearm and fired on the still struggling driver. Rayman was shot in the head and died not long after – and while Holanda was eventually imprisoned, the spot in Kalayaan where the driver died gained a bloodcurdling reputation.
If tales are to be believed, the vengeful ghost of Rayman continually haunts the old Kalayaan guard house – still hell-bent on exacting his revenge for his undeserved death. A point of fact is that, no law enforcement personnel assigned to Kalayaan Heights stay in the old guard house and their operation has entirely moved to the spot where it is now further down the hill.
|The deserted guard house where the resentful spirit still supposedly wanders around|
Yet as fascinating as the tale of the Guard House Ghost is, many more intriguing stories set in Kalayaan Heights’ past remain to be told – some definitely not as gristly and others that are definitely far happier and hopeful. What is more, stories that are yet to happen in this mostly idyllic real estate zone will surely make its mark in the history page. These are the stories that you and I will experience and write about in the days to come.
So, what is your story?