Aswangs in Western Visayas

Aside from sugar, Western Visayas is also famous for its aswangs. Aswangs are the scariest of all supernatural creatures in the Phi...

Aside from sugar, Western Visayas is also famous for its aswangs. Aswangs are the scariest of all supernatural creatures in the Philippines, commonly appearing as bloodthirsty eaters of humans. The myth of the aswang is popular particularly in Panay. The province of Capiz even parlayed this notoriety into a festival. The Aswang Festival of Capiz, which created a stir with local Church groups a while back, now attracts hundreds of tourists yearning for some thrill and excitement, and in the process created livelihood oppotunities for Capiceños.

Perhaps the most popular aswang in Western Visayas is Teniente Gimo. According to legend, Teniente Gimo was a real-life Teniente del Barrio (or Barangay Chairman in present-day terms) in Dingle, Iloilo. He is said to possess supernatural powers and can change into any animal. Various night-time AM radio dramas have depicted him either as a blood-sucking villain terrorizing small villages or as a sort of local “superhero” who used his supernatural powers to help the weak. Another more recent incarnation of the aswang myth is that of Maria Labó. One version of the myth says Maria Labó used to be a beautiful barrio lass who was raped by village men. Swearing revenge, she is said to roam the fringes of small towns victimizing young men. Another version describes Maria Labó as a cannibal who ate her own two sons. Maria Labó is said to be fond of eating human liver and is recognizable by a huge scar across her face, thus the name Maria Labó.

Aside from Teniente Gimo and Maria Labó, one can also hear many scary tales of kapres, dwendes, engkanto, santermo (St. Elmo's Fire), white ladies, manug-hiwits (or mangkukulam) all across the region. Back when there was no cable TV, I used to listen to terrifying aswang stories on our wooden AM transistor radio and one of my favorite programs was the story of Teniente Gimo.

Much has been written about the socio-psychological and anthropological explanation for the persistence of the aswang myth in Filipino folklore. But the first time I heard of a scientific explanation of the aswang myth was from Mar Roxas, Mr. Palengke himself. Back when I was still his executive assistant at DTI, I heard him talk to several important visitors in Capiz about a mysterious disease called Dystonia de Panay and how it may have contributed to the perpetuation of the aswang myth in the region. Dystonia de Panay (scientific name: "torsion dystonia-parkinsonism") or lubag in Ilonggo is a rare musco-skeletal disease found only in Panay. I don’t know who exactly discovered it but a scientific study found that there is an unusually high frequency of dystonia in Panay, particularly in the town of Dingle, Iloilo (where Teniente Gimo supposedly came from) and several areas in Capiz province. Of the 50 recorded cases of dystonia, 23 are from Iloilo and 19 of are from Capiz and all are males. It is called lubag in the vernacular because persons with this disease are afflicted by intermittent twisting movements, muscular contortions and shuffling gaits. There was no known cure for the disease. The said study's Molecular genetic analysis indicates that the mutation responsible for X-linked dystonia-parkinsonism was introduced into the Ilonggo ethnic group of Panay more than 2,000 years ago.

Before it can be sufficiently examined by science and before a cure to it was found, the disease mysteriously vanished in the 1950s. To see someone afflicted with dystonia de Panay must have been a really scary sight especially to simple, superstitious folk. Hence the preponderance of aswang myths in the hinterlands. Who knows, since dystonia de Panay is a congenital disease it may suddenly appear again somewhere when we least expect it.



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  1. Teniente Gimo is not from Dingle. he is from Duenas, Passi city




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