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8 True stories from Philippine history scarier than any horror movie

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By Luisito Batongbakal, Jr

If you’re craving for bloodcurdling stories that will give you the goosebumps this Halloween, look no further. Our history is chock-full of horror stories so horrifying that your teachers probably were too scared to even talk about them. And remember that childhood dream of yours to invent a time machine? You probably would have ditched it sooner if you knew things like these were waiting for you:

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 Early Filipino tribesmen literally feasted on human brains a la zombies.

If you think eating brains is something only zombies find appetizing, then wait until you read Paul de La Gironière’s bestselling mid-19th century travelogue Adventures in the Philippine Islands.

Gironière was a French explorer who arrived in the Philippines in 1820. The adventurer in him thought it was a good idea to stay in the country for a while to practice his profession (he was an eye doctor). Soon, he founded the town of Jala Jala in the present-day Rizal province and managed it for almost 20 years until the death of his wife and son.

One day, accompanied by his assistant (aptly named Alila), Gironière decided to explore the mountainous provinces of the north. This was to see for himself what exactly the headhunting “savages” looked like and how they survived on a daily basis.

First stop was the Tinguians of Abra. Save for their weird odor (which Gironière attributed to the Tinguians’ habit of not removing their clothes), the two visitors found the ethnic group nicer than they expected. And then came the biggest surprise of their lives: A few days after their arrival, Gironière and Alila were invited to take part in a “brain feast,” a traditional celebration held every time the group won a battle against a rival tribe.

As described by Gironière, the bizarre tradition starts with the Tinguian chiefs and warriors sitting around a “sacred” space where a large vessel of basi (sugar cane wine) was placed, along with several decapitated heads of their enemies. After giving a short victory speech, each of the warriors would then get a severed head for himself, crack it open using a hatchet, and take out the brain. As if it’s not gory enough, the young Tinguian girls would then pound the brains until they were fine enough to be mixed with the sugar cane wine.

When the concoction is ready, all the participants would each get a taste of it and pass it around for the whole tribe to enjoy.  Fearing that the Tinguians would kill them, Gironière had no choice but to partake in what he would describe as an “infernal beverage.”

Although some scholars dismiss the “brain feast” as a possible work of fiction, history suggests otherwise. American explorer Dean Worcester described similar ritual among the Kalinga, while William Alexander Pickering—in his book Pioneering in Formosa (1898)—commented that Formosan savages “mixed the brains of their enemies with wine, and drank the disgusting mixture.”

 The horrors of the ‘Rape of Manila’ are worse than you thought

To describe the WWII tragedies that befell Filipinos as “creepy” won’t do it justice. Even calling it “horrifying” is an understatement. Without a doubt, the Japanese atrocities in the Philippines showed us how far humans could go in the name of honor and lust for power.

In a New York Times article, Jintaro Ishida, a Japanese veteran who served in the navy during WWII, shared how his comrades in the Philippines learned to kill innocent civilians—including women and children—as if they were “just killing insects.” A well in a village somewhere in Lipa, for example, became the final resting place of about 400 Filipinos who were thrown to their deaths. A total of 2,000 people in Calamba were also massacred on Feb. 12, 1945, with the old men strangled to their deaths using a rope because it was “an easier and cheaper way to kill them than with rifles and bullets.”

The files from the Tokyo War Crimes Trials are even more stomach-turning. It is said that some Japanese were involved in an “attempted rape of one female civilian; and attempt to have carnal intercourse with the body of one dead female civilian.” Another statement by Filipino prosecutor Major Pedro Lopez details the tragic deaths of a mother and her child who were in the wrong place at the wrong time:

“…in February 1945 in the Manila home of Bartolome Pons, a pregnant woman with an 11-month-old baby in her arms was shot and killed. The Japanese started to leave, but hearing the baby cry, returned and killed it with two shots.”

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The Exorcism of  Clarita Villanueva

In 1953, 18-year-old Clarita Villanueva of Bacolod City graced the newspaper headlines worldwide after what would turn out to be one of the most “legit” cases of demonic possession in recorded history.

Villanueva came to Manila after her parents died. She first worked as a maid before eloping with her lover. When she found out that her partner was already married, she immediately broke off with him and worked as a dancer. One night, while she was on her way home after watching a late-night movie, Clarita was picked up by the police who suspected her of being a vagrant or homeless. That became her ticket to the Bilibid Prison.

After a few days, her stay in the prison turned from mundane to hellish. The young girl claimed she began seeing strange creatures who would bite her several times in different parts of her body. She described “The Thing” as two terrifying creatures, with the bigger one characterized by curly hair, two fangs, and large eyes.

During the attacks, Clarita would often scream, become hysterical, and lose consciousness. But it was the bite marks that sent chills to those who had personally witnessed how the young girl struggled with what others described as an “invisible vampire.”

No less than tough guy Manila mayor Arsenio Lacson, who visited the demon-possessed Clarita in the city morgue, claimed that he saw bite marks appear out of nowhere on the victim’s hands. Mariano Lara, the medical examiner, was scared out of his wits when he saw firsthand the demonic attacks. He also described the bite marks as otherworldly because they were too large, round (human bite is elliptical), and seemed to have been made by molars.

While others suspected Clarita to be suffering from insanity or a  mental disorder known as “hysterical fugue,” more people were convinced that it was a phenomenon that defy scientific explanation. In the end, hopelessness urged them to finally resort to exorcism to drive demons out of Clarita’s body.

Rev. Lester Sumrall heeded the call. Assisted by two other Protestant ministers, Sumrall used the power of prayers to overcome the invisible devils. Thanks to the sensational story of Clarita Villanueva’s exorcism, as much as 150,000 people who were moved by her deliverance reportedly accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

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The Japanese soldiers who became WWII cannibals

A news report published by The Pittsburgh Press in April 1945 tells the story of Lt. Col. Robert C. Williams, who reportedly got hold of Japanese circulars while he was in Leyte. The said evidence not only confirmed the practice of cannibalism within the Japanese army but also went so far as recommending which human body parts were best for eating.

In 1993, the Free Legal Assistance Group represented families from Bukidnon who claimed their relatives were victims of Japanese cannibalism during WWII. According to lawyer Oscar Musni, as many as 80 people, mostly tribesmen, were killed by the Japanese soldiers for their flesh. Among their evidence were several chopped skeletal remains believed to have belonged to the victims.

Toshiyuki Tanaka, author of the eye-opening book Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II, accidentally discovered war crime documents while perusing the Australian government archives. These documents revealed at least a hundred reported cases of Japanese-initiated cannibalism, including in the Philippines. Worse, some of the Japanese who ate human flesh were not even hungry.

It is believed that they were forced to subject themselves to man-eating by their superiors. This only suggests that cannibalism was also used as a “power projection tool” or a way to build “nerves of steel” among the soldiers.

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A deadly epidemic that led to a deadly massacre.

When a cholera epidemic hit Manila and nearby areas in 1820, thousands of people died in a matter of hours. Carts carrying dead bodies were everywhere, and not enough survivors were left to bury them all. Surprisingly, some of the deaths were not even cholera-related; rather, they were the victims of a gruesome murder frenzy. And it all started with a rumor.

The first case of cholera was observed along the Pasig River on Oct. 4, 1820. It was believed that the disease was introduced into the country via the port of Manila, and originally came from neighboring countries that were likewise affected by the Asiatic Cholera Pandemic.

Despite the efforts of the French to offer medical assistance to the afflicted, some of the natives suspected that these foreigners poisoned the river, which then led to the epidemic. Rumor had it that the French wanted to take over the Philippines, and killing all the Tagalogs was part of the plan. The paranoia culminated on Oct. 9 when hundreds of Filipinos conspired to plunder and massacre all foreigners, except the Spaniards, in Manila, Binondo, Tondo, and Cavite.

Among the eyewitnesses who saw the gruesome massacre as it unfolded was Pierre Dobell, an American who served as the first Imperial Russian consul in Manila. He said that many of the poor victims were “so cut up and mangled that it was impossible to recognize them.”

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Filipino warriors drank from their enemies’ skulls a la Vikings.

Although it’s not historically accurate, we often imagine Vikings as those European seafarers who wore horn helmets and drank from skull cups (i.e. drinking vessels made by cutting away the lower half of an inverted human skull).

Contrary to popular belief, however, the Europeans were not the only ones who enjoyed this disgusting practice. For instance, Frederic H. Sawyer, an English engineer who lived in Luzon for many years, described in his book The Inhabitants of the Philippines (1900) the Negrito culture in Zambales:

“It was customary among them to take with them to their feasts the heads or skulls they possessed. The heads were placed on poles and ceremonial dances were performed around them. They also emulated the Vikings by making drinking cups out of their enemies’ skulls.”

Some of those who joined the Ilocos Revolt of 1660-1661 also resorted to this morbid ritual to celebrate victory. One of the key players of the said revolt, Don Juan Magsanop of Bangi (Bangui), led his men including the Calanasa (Isneg) of eastern Ilocos Norte in celebrating the death of a Spanish friar. And guess what the highlight of the event was? The drinking of alcoholic beverage straight from the friar’s skull.

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The day Palawan became hell on earth

There are events in WWII that don’t receive as much commemoration. The Palawan massacre is one example.

It all happened on Dec. 14, 1944. Marine Private First Class Glenn “Mac” McDole was one of the American POWs detained at the prison camp near Puerto Princesa. An alarm signaled them to get into the trenches which the Japanese previously ordered them to build. The trenches, they were told, would serve as air-raid shelters as soon as the invading American forces started bombing them.

For McDole and the rest of the prisoners, the fact that the Japs were preparing for the invasion only meant one thing: Help was on its way. But it was a double-edged sword. They also heard that the Jap soldiers would kill every prisoner before anyone could even rescue them.

The truth was finally revealed on that fateful day. Captain Nagayoshi Kojima, the camp commander known as the “Weasel” among POWs, just ordered to have all the prisoners eliminated. So it was with great horror when McDole caught a glimpse of Japanese soldiers pouring buckets of gasoline and throwing lighted torches toward the POWs in another trench.

It was not long before he realized that they were all ordered to get into the trenches for one reason—to be burned alive.

The sight of burning men and the sound of their screams stayed with the survivors for the rest of their lives. Anyone who managed to escape the burning trench was either bayoneted to death or killed by machine guns positioned from a distance. American prisoners, 159 of them, were killed that day.

Most of the 11 survivors, including McDole, escaped the massacre by jumping from the cliff or hiding in a pile of garbage, before finally swimming into the sea for nine hours or more.

The Palawan massacre holds the distinction for having sparked a series of POW rescue missions, including famous raids in Cabanatuan, Bataan, and Los Baños. As for the culprits, they received less serious punishments than they deserved: they were either acquitted or received sentences ranging from 12 to 30 years of imprisonment.

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Human sacrifice in pre-colonial Philippines was a bloody, fascinating mess.

It’s not easy to be a slave in ancient Philippines. When a warrior died, for example, a slave was traditionally tied and buried beneath his body. If one was killed violently or if someone from the ruling class died (say, a datu), human sacrifices were almost always required.

Father Juan de Plasencia, an early missionary who authored Relacion de las Costumbres de Los Tagalos in 1589, provided us with a vivid portrait of an ancient burial:

“Before interring him (the chief), they mourned him for four days; and afterward laid him on a boat which serve as a coffin or bier…..If the deceased had been a warrior, a living slave was tied beneath his body until in this wretched way he died.”

Sometimes, as a last resort, an alipin was sacrificed in the hope that the ancestor spirits would take the slave instead of the dying datu. The slave could be an atubang or a personal attendant who had accompanied the datu all his life. The prize of his loyalty was often to die in the same manner as his master. So, if the datu died of drowning, the slave would also be killed by drowning. This is because of onong or the belief that those who belonged to the departed must suffer the same fate.

Slaves from foreign lands could also be sacrificed. In fact, an itatanun expedition had the intention of taking captives from other communities. After being intoxicated, these captives would then be killed in the most brutal ways. Pioneer missionary Martin de Rada reported one case in Butuan wherein the slave was bound to a cross before being tortured by bamboo spikes, hit with a spear, and finally thrown into the river.

They believed that the dying datu was being attacked by the spirits of men he once defeated, and the only way to satisfy the ancestors was to kill a slave.

Luisito E. Batongbakal Jr. is the founder and blogger-in-chief of FilipiKnow.net, an award-winning online magazine that explores interesting stories about Philippine history, culture, and everything in between. He has a fetish for local trivia, unsolved mysteries, and all things creepy. Comments are welcome at admin@filipiknow.net

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  • Joe DeVoe

    gruesome…