Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Rabbit Hole of Philippine Horror

By Sarah Madison Repollo | October 5, 2023

With October’s arrival, scary movies are back in season. As terrifying as horror media tends to be, there is always that reassurance that the monsters on screen are nothing more than a twisted fantasy. 

It’s the thrill of jumpscares without having to live through the nightmare of a thriller film character that tempts viewers into falling down the rabbit hole of this genre. After all, the ghosts aren’t real. 

But when the night falls, and the movie has long since ended, the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur—especially as a legless creature lurks outside your door.

“But a dream is not reality,” Alice said.

“Who’s to say which is which?” the Mad Hatter replied.

Horrors of the Philippines

Filipinos are no strangers to horror. From childhood, the people are taught about kapres, aswangs, and other seemingly fictional beings. 

This interest in the subject began before foreign invaders arrived. The polytheistic tribes of the islands placed great importance on mythology. Despite centuries passing since then, the stories continue to be passed on between generations through oral tradition. 

Whilst many beasts supposedly roam the lands, there are three Philippine legends that every child grows up hearing about. 

The Manananggal 

The manananggal is an age-old legend in the Philippine islands. 

During the daytime, she is a beautiful woman, but at night she morphs into a vampiric creature. Originating from the Filipino words “tanggal,” which means to detach, it is believed that the monster separates itself into two parts to make hunting for food easier. It then scours for new prey and feasts on human bodies. 

The origins of this famed story date back all the way to the pre-colonial era. Before the Spaniards’ arrival, the Philippines was already rich in culture and tradition. Tribes played a huge role in society, and the indigenous people of the Visayan regions were thought to be responsible for the manananggal myth’s creation.

The manananggal isn’t the only myth of its kind, and it actually falls under the category of aswang. The aswang is an umbrella term used to describe shape-shifting beasts who rule the night. This aswang in particular prefers the taste of pregnant women. They suck out internal organs and blood with the help of their lengthy, tubular tongues. 

Fortunately, there are ways to ward off this monster. Just like vampires, the sun is the manananggal’s ultimate nemesis. It is said that if you sprinkle salt around and on the lower torso of the creature, its two parts will be unable to reunite, and the rays of light will become its downfall.

Off with their heads!” says the Queen of Hearts; but perhaps “off with their torsos” would fit the manananggals better. 

The Duwende

Tabi-tabi po!” is what most would say upon traversing the wilderness. This phrase is said in fear and reverence of a goblin-like being—he is easy to anger at whoever disturbs his mound, but generous to those who respect him. 

According to Filipino folklore, if you manage to befriend the creature, a successful life awaits you. But to any traveler unfortunate enough to rile up the duwende, legend says that they aren’t let off lightly. Unusual diseases and unexplainable pains are only a few of the many effects of their hexes.

To undo a curse, albularyos or traditional Philippine doctors perform rituals and use tawas. But most parents seek to prevent their children from being cursed in the first place, so they ban them from going outside during noontime and after dark. 

After all, that is when the duwendes come out to play. 

The White Lady 

In Quezon City, there lies a street called Balete Drive. Few dare to walk the path for fear of sighting a ghostly woman standing amongst the Balete trees. 

The “white lady” exists in many forms across the Philippines, but the ghost of Balete Drive remains one of the most-told horror stories. According to popular belief, a woman had met her end on the road during a hit-and-run incident. Because of her resentment, it is said that the lady continues to haunt the very place where she died—even until the present day.

In 2013, journalist Neal H. Cruz wrote in the Daily Inquirer about his first assignment after graduation—to write an article about the White Lady of Balete Drive. Over 60 years prior and in the 1950s, the country was enthralled by the mysterious white lady. This sudden attention to the myth was due to the latest ghost victim being the then head of the Quezon City Police Department. 

According to the captain, he had been cruising along Balete Drive while on patrol when he caught sight of a woman adorned in all-white clothing. He stopped near her and asked where she was going. She wanted to be dropped at the corner of España Extension, so he told her to hop in and they drove off. Just as they were about to arrive at their destination, the girl disappeared.

Many have claimed to have had similar experiences to the captain, but nothing has ever been confirmed thus far.

The Real Deal?

Debates continue as the Filipino people wonder if the nightmares of their childhood are true. To some with first-hand paranormal experiences, the ghouls of the night are as real as can be. To the other side of society, the stories are nothing more than tales meant to remind children to be careful.

Whatever the truth may be, we advise you to always watch out when—-slurp. Splatter. Splotch. 

The manananggal feasts. 

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