Legends occupy that grey space between history and myth.
As traditional stories that vary in popularity, they are often folkloric in quality, meaning that depending on where you are, they can be famous enough in the place’s cultural sphere and regarded as well nigh historical, but almost always unauthenticated, or they can be regarded as completely bogus by the citizens of the next barangay over—something those yokels in that hill over yonder believe, but not us, oh no, not us.
Urban legends are an even more iffy affair. They’re almost always entertaining, spread like wildfire, and go out like a light switch once they’re run their course. They also play on contemporary fears, their relevance and paradigm almost always a product of the era’s gestalt. Also, verification of any of the underlying facts are a bitch to confirm. A cousin’s friend who heard it from the sister of a distant nephew knew someone that it happened to.
Nevertheless, here’s a few of the country’s most interesting, sustained, and mysterious ones, from the vaguely heard to the obscure. Are any of them true?
1) Maria Labo, The OFW Aswang
In one tale, she is nameless a Scar-Faced Woman who has gone feral and deserves pity. In another she is a full-blown aswang, who exchanged virtues and soul for the strength to overcome both disease and time in a classic bargain with dark powers. She is the local equivalent of Medea, with a much more sinister twist.
Either way, both strains of the narrative share a common origin story. Maria hailed from the province of Iloilo (or Capiz) and she’s a caring mother and wife who, wanting to give her family a better life, bagged work abroad (some say Canada) as an Overseas Filipino Worker.
She was cursed in one story, exploited until she broke in another, and still in the third the nature of the work was so backbreaking that she sought help from The Devil, and this said Devil gave her the powers of the aswang and the mangkukulam. Whichever one you believe Maria was ignorant of the true price she would pay for her time abroad.
End of contract term comes and she went back home to the quiet of the provincial life and the breakdown or the hunger for human flesh, a natural condition of the aswang curse, steadily took hold.
One night her husband came home and sat down to eat a meal she had prepared. “Where are our two sons?” asked the husband. Maria pointed to the stove where the bones of the children still stuck out from a pot. Enraged, the man unsheathed his bolo and slashes wildly at Maria.
In the mad scramble Maria escaped, but not before the husband dealt her a nasty slash to the face, a scar that bisects her features diagonally. Now she is known as Maria Labo—“Labo” meaning the Ilonggo word “to slash.”
The legend of Maria Labo is so popular in Ilonggo and Capiz that people say she still roams the countryside looking for victims. In 2015, a movie with the same title was released by Viva Films, directed by Roi Vinzon and starring Jestoni Alarcon and the short-lived scream queen Kate Brios, cementing the fame of the legend in the annals of Pinoy B-horror cinema.
2) Demon Feet: Don’t Pee Alone at This Hospital
In a certain major hospital in Manila, female interns and residents avoid trying to pee alone in a CR of one of the hospital wings, and try to avoid it altogether.
In the late 1990s gossip and tales in medical circles told of a young nurse (sometimes it’s a young doctoral student) who was conversing with a friend while she was peeing while her friend was outside, washing her hands in the sink. The doctor’s beeper sounded and so she had to go, leaving the nurse to finish on her own. As the nurse was wrapping up, she heard a clicking sound in the next cubicle.
She thought nothing of it until she went out, washed her hands on the sink and looked at the mirror. Behind her, in the reflection of the cubicle next to where she’d been were the clawed feet of a demon sitting on the toilet, feet like a raptor’s, huge and reptilian. The clicking sound was made by one of the nails tapping against the tiled floor of the bathroom.
The story has become diluted over the years and some say the hospital is not in Manila but in Marikina, and some say in a gov’t hospital in the slums of Makati. If anyone ever finds out let us know. So we can avoid the hell out of that place.
3) Antique’s Young Firestarter Emma
Around 2011, news outlets were abuzz with the news of a true blue pyrokinetic in one of the villages of provincial Antique. Emma Tablate, then a precocious three-year-old caused so much panic when her mother, Karen Tablat, claimed that her daughter was capable of making fire simply by just saying “apoy!”
Emma is real enough and so is the Municipality of San Jose de Buenavista in Antique, Iloilo City. Problems started happening when witnesses said that around February of that same year, Emma made the kitchen of their neighbor’s house spark fire and that blaze eventually consumed the nipa roof. The fire was put out but, the following days, Monday, then Tuesday, the calendar attached the wall was also consumed by fire because of Emma’s powers.
At first an unbeliever, Emma’s father, Benedicto Tablate (a tricycle driver), was eventually convinced when Emma made the wheel of his vehicle catch flame and get a flat. The family’s radio, pillow, blanket, a slice of bread she’d been eating, and the floor mat also caught fire eventually.
More and more witnesses came to see the young firestarter of Antique. These included several policemen, local bureaus of major media outlets (one of GMA News’s video cameras caught fire!), and even the town’s mayor.
Intrigued by the child’s powers, local shamans and psychic experts opined Emma was not to blame for the malicious and sudden conflagrations, the true beings responsible for the burning was the evil spirits in the form of black dwarves living behind the family’s house.
This news was taken as gospel for a bit and eventually prompted the family to have Emma baptized. However, during the baptism, Bombo Radyo Antique’s Paul Petingay said that “Nasunog yung papel na nakadikit sa bulletin board ng simbahan. May paniwala yung karamihan na itong bata ay sinusundan ng masasamang ispiritu kahit saan siya magpunta.”
If you have any news about Emma, who should be around 10 or 11 years old now, let us know. We know a few people in the august halls of our Senate and Congress she can practice her powers on.
4) The Taong Lansa of Palawan Will Eat You
You probably know about the Taong Grasa, the homeless grease men who roam Manila’s streets looking like leftovers from a zombie movie. But have you heard of the Taong Lansa?
As told to me by one of the eco-enforcers of Palawan, the Taong Lansa are so named because you’ll literally smell them before you see them. The fishy, slimy, and almost rotting scent that is their namesake hails from wandering around the wilds and the jungles, unbathed and unhinged, eating a diet mostly of fish and edible plants. They are said to be the remains of tribesmen who were cast out, or whose tribes were wiped out, either way they have become pariahs all the same.
Beware anyone who crosses their path because these lost tribesmen have turned to cannibalism and, though they roam alone and are slow from lack of nutrition, will attack the unwary traveler crossing the woods at night.
Woodsmen, farmers, and anyone camping alone outside towns and villages know it is best to bring a bolo or machete if you know you will be caught at night in the woods, and that you just make a shelter in between the roots of big trees as temporary fortification, so the Taong Lansa can only come at you from one direction and you can defend yourself.
5) Vanishing Ghost Ship In The Romblon Triangle
We have our own version of the Bermuda Triangle in the dangerous riptide waters where the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea intersect in an area that covers The Tablas Strait up to the Sibuyan passage. It’s a site locals have dubbed "The Romblon Triangle."
Ship captains have reported seeing fireflies, orbs, and St Elmo’s Fires (or santelmos in local mariner’s talk) in that area. These phenomena compete with the light coming from the lighthouse on the peak of the Sibale Island. Other tales of weird apparitions abound, but none more amazing than sightings of the “ghost ship” during misty night, brightly lighted and “glistening like gold.”
Because it’s open water made even more treacherous by sudden riptides, accidents at sea are the norm.
It’s also around the Romblon Triangle that, on April 22, 1980, the ship Don Juan collided with an oil tanker and sunk. Locals say the ghost ship appeared that night and it was the same ship the Don Juan was trying to steer clear of that made it crash into the tanker instead. A thousand people died in that collision.
Residents of the coast say the ghost ship is a curse and that it contributes to the poverty and hardships, a string of ill-luck, experienced by the citizens. That the ghost ship of Lolo Amang and the Romblon Triangle have both made life on the island just like living in a cemetery. Some of the more superstitious residents believe that if the ghost ship were ever made to disappear the curse would be lifted and everyone’s lives would take a turn for the better.
6) San Juanico Bridge And The Blood Of The Innocents
The construction of San Juanico Bridge, the huge structure connecting Samar and Leyte, took four years and cost US$21.9 million.
It is now the longest bridge in the country and, when it started to be built in the late '60s, it is said that Imelda Marcos had her eye on it. So she pressured the one on charge of the operation to do well or suffer the consequences. Harassed, the overseer was said to have consulted a fortune-teller, who proclaimed that such a gargantuan task would never be completed unless children were involved.
The stories differ at this point, but they all do include the sacrifice of children. In some stories, upon hearing of the fortune-teller’s declaration, Imelda herself was said to have ordered the local militia and military to kidnap children from the surrounding villages and for their blood to be mixed in the cement mixer for the bridge’s sturdiness and fortitude.
In another version it was the overseer who took it upon himself to gather a squad of willing cohorts and round up any street children, slit their throats, and splatter it on the bridge’s foundations. The bodies of the children were thereafter thrown away in the river.
The creepy thing about this legend is that there was a real spike in missing children during the four years that the bridge was being built. Coincidence? Maybe. But what’s sure is that San Juanico continues to stand strong until now, weathering even Yolanda and Ondoy.
7) The Beautiful, Invisible City of Biringan
As far as urban legends go, The Invisible Biringan City is about the size and scale of a real metropolis.
Somewhere in Samar is a city of fey construction to rival the tallest skyscrapers of the world and, if those who claim to have been there can be believed, rivals the skyline of New York, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Except when you behold the towering buildings with their elegant spires and cathedral-like battlements, you will know such elegance and craftsmanship was not made by anything resembling human hands.
Biringan’s mysterious place is hailed as the Invisible City and the Lost City, like Atlantis, El Dorado or Shangri-La (not the damn mall), inhabited by changelings, faeries, enkantos, tikbalangs, kapres, and other creatures of Philippine lower mythology.
It is invisible to the human eye, but the locals take it as just another normal day if someone goes missing for a few hours. They surmise he was simply drawn to the city, lured as it were through a trance or a fugue state akin to possession.
Bus drivers and truckers have blamed lost time and holes in their memory to being in Biringan City. Businessmen and merchants who vanish are said to have been lured by wily engkantos, posing as humans, into the deal of a lifetime. These deals are deadly and prove the last contract the businessman will ever make for they are never seen again.
The city is vast, those who retain fragments of their time in the city declare. Locals surmise the portals or roads to the Invisible City lie between the towns of Gandara, Tarangnan, and Pagsanhan. And fishermen may find themselves no longer in the open sea, findings a sudden abundance of catch, but inside enchanted waters.
The most chilling part of the legend isn’t that Samar natives take the invisible city next door as fact, but that items addressed to said city get delivered to the post office and the storage areas. City officers claim cases abound where products have been ordered from Manila, appliances and even cars, addressed to long dead people in the Invisible City. All the orders have been fully paid and lie there for a time, unclaimed.
On top of all that, these shipments and boxes one day just vanish without so much as a tire mark, as if someone had shanghaied it with magic. How about that for effective shipping and receiving?