reprinted from the South China Morning Post, April 8 2004
A few years ago, our neighbours had a worrying problem. They said a hobgoblin - a dwende - had recently moved into their house and was living under the staircase. They claimed it was invisible, but they knew it was there because late at night it would growl and shout and curse.
To be frank, although our houses are cheek-by-jowl, we did not hear any strange noises or swearing coming from the other side. Perhaps we were spiritually insensitive. Or maybe the twisted creature was being unusually considerate of our feelings and would only yell in the direction of our neighbour's bedrooms. At any rate, a few weeks later, we found they had solved the problem by hiring an exorcist, who banished the foul-mouthed fiend.
Now, when I think about it more carefully, it is clear that I missed asking our neighbour one very important, question: can you do the same thing to politicians? I mean, after all, if evil spirits are so weak that all it takes to move them along is a few pesos paid to professionals, why should a corrupt congressman be immune?
The reason I neglected to ask that question was that I was too preoccupied thinking about what a strange place my country can be. Sometimes it almost seems to exist in a twilight world, unable to distinguish between reality, spirituality and superstition.
Do not think that my neighbours are unusual. When we moved into our
house, we found the previous occupants had pasted small orange triangular pieces of paper, each bearing a drawing of an eye and strange writing, high up on each door. Underneath each triangle they had nailed a Byzantine-like medallion with a saint's image in relief. We found these amulets deliciously creepy - perhaps they were the enchanted wards that made us immune to the neighbour's dwende.
And do not get me started on apparitions. Every few years, a Filipino will start yelling he or she has seen the Blessed Virgin, or the Infant Jesus. In no time, the visionary will have a group of followers, all praying for salvation.
More than 70 years ago, an American doctor newly arrived in the country observed that "the Filipinos were such ardent seekers after wonderworking that they would cry out `I believe' when any prophet proclaimed `Lo! A Miracle!" I suspect many Asians are prone to believe in the supernatural, but Filipinos lead the way. Perhaps believing in the fantastic takes the sting away from having to live in dreary reality.
And some of the tales can take strange twists, too. A handsome young man who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and attracted a huge following suddenly dropped out of sight. When he reappeared, he was a pretty young woman. Now that is what I call miraculous.