344 – On Traversing Tragic Thoroughfares: Tomas Morato Avenue

The stretch of Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City, a major city in the Philippine capital Manila, is known for its restaurants and other entertainment-related establishments. Once called Sampaloc Avenue due to the tamarind trees that lined the road, its name was changed in 1966 to honor Morato, the city’s first mayor. I’m no stranger to the road and the vicinity around it, having passed by there since I was little. Many a special event we attended would be held at one of the restaurants along the stretch.

But given that the avenue has been in existence since the 1940s, it has definitely seen darker days. Tragedies have played a role in the history of the 1.69-kilometer avenue. Today’s special Halloween post here on The Monching’s Guide touches on three such tragedies.

(See that monument in the middle of the road? That’s who the scouts on the names of the streets here were named after. Died in the early 60s on the way to Greece.)

United Arab Airlines Flight 869 crash

Perhaps the most obvious tragedy that played a role in Tomas Morato Avenue’s history was the crash of United Arab Airlines (now EgyptAir) Flight 869, which happened back in July 1963. The aircraft plunged into the Arabian Sea as it approached the Bombay Santa Cruz Airport (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport) in India, killing all its 55 passengers. Among the fatalities was the 24-member contingent of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP), who were en route to the 11th World Scout Jamboree in Marathon, Greece. Flags at the jamboree were set to half-mast when news of the deaths broke out.

In commemoration of the BSP delegation who died aboard the flight, streets surrounding Tomas Morato Avenue were named after the late scouts. The lower terminus of the avenue (bordering Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. Avenue) was also named Barangay Laging Handa (always ready), a nod to the Scouting movement’s motto of “Be Prepared.” Moreover, a rotunda was erected in the intersection of Tomas Morato and Timog (South, pronounced tee-mug) avenues with bronze likenesses of the contingent surrounding it. The rotunda was updated in 2007, which saw an obelisk and a memorial to the road’s namesake mayor being added.

(That “open 25 hours” breakfast joint? A tragedy happened there years ago; that old disco burned down. Poor kids, never got to march.)

Ozone Disco fire

The intersection of Timog and Tomas Morato avenues also became the site of a tragic discotheque fire, the worst conflagration in Philippine history. Back in March 1996, the Ozone Disco caught fire amid the celebration of students set to graduate that month. A spark that began at the DJ booth eventually spread throughout the establishment and killed 162. According to the city’s fire department that time, most of them were trapped at the main exit door struggling to open it – until they died of suffocation.

Overcrowding in the premises, a lack of proper fire exits and the main exit door that only swung inward played a huge role in the number of fatalities. The Manor Hotel fire five years later in 2001, located almost 3 kilometers away from the discotheque, was the second worst with 75 fatalities. The reportedly haunted site remained unused for a number of years after the tragedy, alongside calls for justice from survivors of the disco fire. Ozone Disco‘s former structure was demolished in 2015 and replaced with a branch of Filipino breakfast chain GoodAh!!! owned by talk show host Boy Abunda.

(Go inside that little corner and follow it, just keep going. You’ll end up at a pretty long stretch of road. Just don’t go there at night if you’re afraid of ghosts.)

The White Lady of Balete Drive

Tomas Morato Avenue also serves as the terminus of Balete Drive Extension, which the Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. Avenue cuts from the main Balete Drive. This stretch of road – long existent before Tomas Morato Avenue itself was built – also served as the location for a tragic crime, per an urban legend. That same crime resulted in the so-called White Lady haunting the stretch of road. Two versions of the ghost story are popular, with a grudge against taxi drivers being the only consistent theme.

The White Lady appears to be a woman either sexually assaulted or ran over by a cab driver and left to die back in the 1950s, which explained her hatred of cabbies. A third version, meanwhile, paints the ghost as a victim seeking help from passing public transportation. No matter what the reason, taxi drivers often refuse to pass by Balete Drive for fear of ghostly apparitions. Having passed by this stretch myself whilst driving, methinks the overgrowth of giant Ficus trees (balete in the local language) that make the road dark at night only contribute to the urban legend’s popularity.

Tragedies like the ones I wrote above have made their mark on Tomas Morato Avenue. One side of the coin shows the lights and sounds of the commercial establishments along the stretch. On the other side, a dark past only emerging in silence as the businesses are closed.

That’s it for my Halloween post; until the next entry.

13 thoughts on “344 – On Traversing Tragic Thoroughfares: Tomas Morato Avenue

  1. Thanks for sharing these tidbits about T Morato and surroundings. I’ve heard about the white lady at Balete Drive, and the Ozone fire was big news back then. I always wondered about the Scout names, now I know!

    • No problem, Nes! The Ozone fire was definitely big news that time; it played a big role in the development of local fire codes. I was six when that happened — naalala ko pa tatay ko noong nabanggit yung balita: “Kaya ikaw, huwag kang tambay nang tambay sa mga disco!”

      Dad and I passed by the place during the early 2000s, and I distinctly remember the establishment’s neon sign still perched on top of the building. It was later taken down.

    • They definitely were indeed — most espcially the Ozone Disco fire.

      Upon further reading, I learned that the last song that was playing before the tragic blaze was Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams”.

  2. What a perfect Halloween post! These stories definitely are tragic and I am shocked by the Ozone Disco fire… I think I had heard of the Manor Hotel before but I don’t remember when… maybe some distant memories from when I was a kid! The White Lady story also seems straight out of a horror story and it’s crazy that taxi drivers still don’t want to pass by that street!

    • For the Manor Hotel fire, it happened when I was 11 years old — and it almost gained global notoriety after it was revealed that several Americans were guests there. (Thankfully, there were no foreign casualties.)

      Incidentally, the Ozone Disco and Manor Hotel fire had a common link — the same set of city officials granted both businesses permits to operate despite their structures lacking proper fire exits. The said officials were convicted in 2019, thankfully.

      As for the old hotel, it was converted into several businesses — the most recent being a funeral parlor and crematorium.

      For the White Lady, I did notice for a time that Balete Drive (the stretch of road where the ghost shows up) seldom has public transportation. Only private vehicles pass by; taxis, if any, only take the route while the sun is up.

      • Wow that’s crazy! And I think I definitely heard about the Manor Hotel incident, this whole story definitely rings a bell – it’s a good thing that they got those responsible for this!

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