Looking Back

Historical ghosts


In the Philippines people will avoid a haunted house or any property with a ghost. On the contrary, old manors are turned into boutique hotels in England, and heritage sites elsewhere in Europe are proud of their ghosts and use them to advantage for marketing and promotion. This mindset shows that the different ways we deal with ghosts are a result of culture or how we were brought up. I do wonder now, after the success of “Harry Potter,” “The Twilight Saga” and “True Blood,” how young people deal with things-that-go-bump-in-the-night.

I have lived long enough to be told of the aswang and the mangkukulam. Part of my childhood was knowing the difference between a manananggal and a tianak. Later I read Maximo D. Ramos’ classification of our underworld into witches, ghouls, blood suckers, viscera suckers, etc.

When I entered my teens, horror movies were not about vampires, werewolves or mummies anymore. These creatures of the underworld were easily repelled with garlic, crucifixes and holy water, or dispatched with silver bullets or a wooden stake in the heart. Instead we were introduced to slasher films that began with “Friday the 13th” in the 1980s and, I think, were created to deter teens from premarital sex in deserted places. There was always a sexual element somewhere because the teens were usually murdered after sex, sometimes before sex. The slash-and-kill films of the 1990s made household words of Jason and Freddie, and even a doll named Chucky.

Today werewolves and vampires are cute teens or young adults that walk the thin line between sex and mayhem. Vampires and werewolves in film are not just predators but complicated beings with human emotions like love, greed and lust.

Balete Drive in Quezon City is known for its “White Lady” who likes to get into empty taxicabs and terrify drivers. It is one of the most famous of urban legends that continues to thrive even if it is a hoax.

Why is it always a “white lady”? Why can’t it be a “black man” like the traditional kapre who will surely protest anti-smoking ordinances declaring his balete tree home a smoke-free place?

Jessica Zafra wrote a wonderful story, “Manananggal terrorizes Tondo,” about a rural flying creature transported to an urban setting. The poor thing couldn’t fly without getting caught up in electric wires and TV antennas! Then we have those creatures with long, pointed and hollow tongues used to suck unborn children from their mother’s womb. Life was easy for them when people lived in simple houses raised on stilts with bamboo slat flooring. How can those creatures feast on their favorite food now, when urban people live in high-rise buildings with concrete floors? Our aswang is growing extinct like the Dodo and needs to be preserved. Which is why Capiz tried to organize a yearly Aswang Festival, until they came afoul of the conservatives in the Catholic Church who  want to keep Filipinos immature and away from contraception, Halloween and even Harry Potter.

When you enter an English heritage site like Hampton Court, you are told about Henry VIII and the ghosts of the wives whose heads literally rolled from a chopping block. Malacañang is supposed to be haunted, so haunted that the late Corazon Aquino would not live in it even if it had been blessed and exorcised repeatedly. It is a historic place but, alas, it has no historic ghosts. I’m not interested in elementals in gardens or ghosts of other individuals. As a historian, I’d want to meet any of the presidents from Emilio Aguinaldo to Ferdinand Marcos and interview them. I wouldn’t mind going back beyond American governors-general to Spanish governors-general, but alas not one of them is available.

I have visited historic sites and shrines, but they don’t have anyone worth being afraid of either. There are three Rizal Shrines: Calamba, Fort Santiago and Dapitan, but his ghost cannot be found in any one of them, not even in Luneta where he was shot and where he is buried.

Juan Luna does not haunt a shrine to his memory in Badoc, Ilocos Norte or his resting place in the crypt of San Agustin Church in Intramuros.

Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite, should be a wonderful setting for haunting, but his spirit does not seem to make itself felt inside the house or in the garden where he is buried. The closest we can get to something worthy of a Halloween column are old wives’ tales about a kapre who was supposed to live in an old tree by the general’s bedroom window. This friendly kapre supposedly would warn Aguinaldo of imminent danger, which explains why he outlived all his enemies. Alas, the tree that the kapre called home was blown off by a recent typhoon, and nobody knows where the poor thing has relocated.

Ghost stories abound in Philippine life, and if there are any historical ghosts out there they would make excellent material for this column. The National Library, the National Archives and the National Historical Commission all have their ghost stories spun by old employees or bored security guards. These are probably ghosts of people executed in Bagumbayan, when the now manicured park was a killing field, a place of execution. But alas, no ghosts of historical persons are worth seeking out there.

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  • Mang Teban

    if ghosts exist to scare people at eerie and quiet places, then there is no place nowadays that ghosts can scare people because almost everywhere people are distracted and constantly in motion.
    Unless one goes to look for ghosts, then it is a different matter. But, usually, those who do, are only inviting the evil forces of Satan to play tricks on them.

    I am aware of the existence of evil that lurks around. They are not ghosts or lost souls. They are in the minds of some people who plan, orchestrate, and implement dark designs to take advantage of other people. Plunderers, terrorists, extortionists, murderers, kidnappers, rapists, cyber sex den operators, human traffickers, drug cartels, smugglers, saboteurs, and many others falling under the category of the cursed abound to strike fear, steal the peace and harmony of society, and cause the collapse of our economy. They have been around for ages and are still going strong.

  • Anonymous

    Aside from historical ghosts, there are other ghosts as well no less haunting.  Like the ghost of a smile of presidential spokespersons who think they are witty  (a really difficult smile of a ghost  to manage when you have one foot in the mouth); or like the ghost of a chance that the FOI bill maybe passed; or the ghost of unborn babies that will haunt the RH bill; and last but not least, the ghosts of failed coups that haunt the senate halls, which ghosts are in turn scared of their own ghosts that haunt the place where they used to be.  May they all rest their case.

    • Anonymous

      You actually think that’s clever? -_-

      • Anonymous

        If it gets your goat, yes; otherwise, no.

  • Anonymous

    Bakit ang mga tao sa chirstian nations ay paniwalang paniwala sa ghost as in kaluluwa ng namatay, samantalang ang biblia ay hindi nagtuturo nito instead ang tao pag namatay ay wala ng ano mang magagawa ayon dito sa bible text galing wikipidia Eclesiastes 9:5,6,10 – omhooo.
    Tranditional lang ito galing sa ating mga ninunong mga animista.
    To justify itong sinabi ni Mang Teban….
    Accepting, but moving beyond this position, some ghosts are actually said to be demons in disguise, who the Church teaches, in accordance with I Timothy 4:1, that they “come to deceive people and draw them away from God and into bondage. As a result, attempts to contact the dead may lead to unwanted contact with a demon or an unclean spirit, as was said to occur in the case of Robbie Mannheim, a fourteen year old Maryland youth.
    Ngunit sa ating mga Catholico hindi malinaw na pinapaliwanag ito ng simbahan, kung ano ba talaga ang kaluluwa, palagi nalang sinasabing humihiwalay sa tao pag namamatay, samantalang hindi ito ang turo ng bible 

  • Anonymous

    How about ghost employees and ghost projects? They usually haunt the local government capitol buildings, DPWH, etc…

  • Pablo

    What we call ghosts are indeed evil spirits who roams the air, they have been judged already and just waiting for the day when they will be punished. For the meantime they can annoy people.

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