The complex and a times absurd category of zooform phenomena vomits out countless monsters and apparitions of animalistic characteristics. Some are the product of hoax or hysteria; others exist by being dependent on the human psyche. They are observed near dark woods, in stormy skies or inky waters, but they inhabit none of these. These are simply the locations we put them in. Many of these ‘monsters’ are said to be bad omens; forewarnings of impending tragedy or symbols of upcoming political upheaval. The dreaded Mothman, the skull-biting Monkey Man, the bat-winged Popobawa - just a few of many bogeymen said to exist on some ethereal plateau as harbingers of doom.
The Manananggal of the Philippines is another of those surreal yet frightening creatures from the fringe. Beyond cryptozoology, and the supernatural, this horrifying vampire became known as the ‘terror of Tondo’ during the spring of 1992 when it terrorised the squalid avenues of Manila, vanishing into the shadows as a new president and thousands of officials were about to be elected. Filipinos had one eye on the presidential campaign and one eye on the skies for it was rumoured that the wraith, said to resemble a female whose body separates in two was on the rampage. The top half of the body, of a night, leaves the bottom half and scours the slums in search of food, mainly in the form of baby flesh! However, before daybreak the legend states that the monster must rejoin its bottom half, enabling the spook to walk around during the day just like the ordinary folk of the Tondo district.
The May 11th election had been replaced in the tabloids by the tales of the blood-sucking Manananggal. No-one knows where the tales originated from but in an area of great superstition and folk belief, monster mania is rife. One woman told the Daily News, “It’s scary. That’s why I don’t sleep alone.”
The story appeared to break a week after a local woman, a Ms Martina Santa Rosa, was attacked by the ghoul. She told newspapers, “She attacked me. I was just lucky I was able to get free. I saw half of her body. It was naked. She had long, scraggly hair, long arms, nails and sharp fangs.”
Despite scepticism, a neighbour, Mr Alfonso Bernardo, corroborated the tale stating, “We saw it fly away from her house.”
As with the case of the Monkey Man of New Dehli, some innocent people were drawn into the hysteria. A local woman, Teresita Beronqui, had her home invaded by a dozen angry men, accompanied by a television crew, who believed that she was in fact the hideous vampire. ABS-CBN television interviewed the elderly woman who through a veil of tears pleaded her innocence. The woman even claimed that she herself had been attacked by the monster and tried to prove this by showing the missing toes from one of her feet.
Bizarrely, a vampire ‘expert’ was drafted in and after interrogating the woman stated on national television that she was lying. Such investigations bring to mind the mass hysteria caused in 1960s London when it was alleged that in the north of the capital a seven-foot tall, red-eyed vampire was prowling Highgate Cemetery. Although a malevolent spirit was the more likely explanation, the events spiralled out of control and to this day cloud the original incident.
Another unidentified ‘expert’, when called in to comment on the Manananggal attacks, stated categorically that the woman accused was a vampire but had since transformed back to her normal self after a night of hunting. However, when asked to explain the missing toes, the ‘expert’ commented that the woman had failed to shape-shift back completely!
The legend of the Manananggal states that should any such ghoul come in contact with the dried tail of a stingray, then they will be repulsed by its touch. So, live on television, the woman was asked to touch such an object after reporter Cesar Soriano had produced one. The woman, thankfully, passed with flying colours, otherwise it may have resulted in her being treated as the local freak. Proof that in some districts little has changed since the witch trials of centuries ago.
Even so, the Manananggal was still said to linger in the shadows of Tondo weeks after the presidential election. Some would argue that such legends are evoked as a distraction from political upheaval, but those of a more suspicious nature blame the press for creating ‘silly season.’
Such cultural monsters are proof that whilst cryptozoologists are eager to confine such beasts to the wilderness of the world, it’s more likely that such phantoms can be found in the minds of those who fear them, and then the pages of the local newspapers, rather than the thickets we want them to inhabit.