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Looking Back
‘Aswang’ and counter-insurgency?

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:22:00 02/16/2010

Filed Under: Belief (Faith), history

MANILA, Philippines?When I tell people that I have just been to Roxas City, they ask where on earth it is. I reply that Roxas City is the birthplace of President Manuel A. Roxas. It also happens to be the capital of Capiz Province. When that connection is made I am often asked if I saw any aswang there, and I reply that I went to Roxas to enjoy its bountiful seafood.

The city?s claim to be the ?Seafood Capital of the Philippines? is not without merit. You can buy fresh oysters for P70 a pail. No fear of red tide. Each oyster is clean and tastes good because it comes from unpolluted waters. Crabs, shrimps and prawns are plentiful, but if available one should go for diwal or the angel wing clams.

During a tour of the city, we were shown the seaside home of Mar Roxas and were told that his new wife Korina is often in town. It was only then that I understood the context of Roxas attending a session in the Senate with a garland of garlic to repel the urban aswang, especially undesirables in government and national politics.

I have been reading up on presidential campaigns and elections in the past to prepare columns that will be timely as we hit fever pitch during the current campaign period. I have gone far back to local elections during the Spanish period, usually held in the town church and witnessed or influenced by the parish priest. I have re-read the sources for that sorry part of our history known as the Tejeros Convention, where our founding fathers dissolved the Katipunan and established a Revolutionary Government. We know that Emilio Aguinaldo was elected president in absentia, that Andres Bonifacio was elected secretary of the interior, that Bonifacio lost his cool when his credentials or fitness for the post were questioned. What we are not told is that our founding fathers might have participated in the first electoral fraud or dagdag-bawas in our nation?s history.

Then there is the Commonwealth elections where Manuel L. Quezon emerged victor against Emilio Aguinaldo, Gregorio Aglipay, and Pascual Racuyal, who later challenged every president in every election until 1986 when he was finally declared a nuisance candidate.

After reading Elpidio Quirino?s memoirs, I decided to take the other view. While reading ?In the Midst of Wars: An American?s Mission to Southeast Asia? by Edward Geary Lansdale (New York, 1972), we have first-hand accounts of many backroom tricks Lansdale played to get Magsaysay into Malacańang as president.

One story jumped out of the book because of my recent trip to Capiz. It concerned the use of aswang in counter-insurgency. Lansdale wrote:

?To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures. Some of its aura of mystery was imparted to me on my own visits there. Goosebumps rose on my arms on moonless nights in Huk territory as I listened to the haunting minor notes of trumpets playing Pampangueńa dirges in the barrios or to the mournful singing of men and women known as nangangaluluwa as they walked from house to house on All Saints? Night telling of lost and hungry souls. Even [Ramon] Magsaysay believed in the apparition called a kapre, a huge black man said to walk through tall grass at dusk to make it stir or sit in a tree or astride a roof smoking a large cigar.

?One psywar operation played upon the popular dread of an aswang, or vampire, to solve a difficult problem. Local politicians opposed Magsaysay?s plan of moving more troops out of defensive garrisons to form further mobile and aggressive BCTs [Battalion Combat Teams], and in one town the local bigwigs pointed out that a Huk squadron was based on a hill near town. If the troops left, they were sure the Huks would swoop down on the town and the bigwigs would be their victims. Only if the Huk squadron left the vicinity would they agree to the removal of the guarding troops. The problem, therefore, was to get the Huks to move. The local troops had not been able to do this.

?A combat psywar squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an aswang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to circulate among Huk sympathizers in the town and make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along a trail used by the Huks. When the Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the aswang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daytime came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity. Another day passed before the local people were convinced that they were really gone. Then Magsaysay moved the troops who were guarding the town into a BCT.?

Our military seems to have run out of humor and psywar since the time of Lansdale. These days they use strong-arm tactics just as they did to the Morong 43, the health workers rounded up and branded as members of the New People?s Army.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu



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