An aswang, according to Philippine folklore is a creature of the night that has a taste for human flesh and blood, has the ability to transform into certain animals, and has other supernatural abilities such as witchcraft. The origin of the word aswang is still being disputed up to this day. The arrival of Catholicism turned the aswang into a demon and made it vulnerable to crosses, holy water, and other objects and symbols of Catholic faith. In his book, The Aswang Syncrasy in Philipine Folklore, Dr. Maximo D. Ramos identified the aswang into five categories: the blood-sucking vampire such as the Mandurugo, the viscera-sucker or self-segmenter like the Manananggal, the weredog that shape-shifts into a dog or a boar, the vindictive or evil-eye witch that could kill anyone using hexes, and the ghoul that steals and eats corpses.
Belief in the aswang is widespread in the Philippines and dates back before the Spanish conquered the archipelago. Spanish missionaries and authorities mentioned the persistence of such belief in their memoirs and letters.
In Western Visayas, the belief in the aswang persists despite the advances in science and modernization. Even in its cities, some folks still continue to fear this creature of the night. Once in a while you will hear or see in the local news of an alleged aswang attack or sighting. In the past, newcomers from Iloilo and its neighboring provinces were held under suspicion by Manila locals, fearing they might sprout wings and fly off with dangling entrails at night. This was due to stories about certain individuals in the region believed to have been aswangs, which became popular nationwide – some becoming urban legends later.
There is the story of the infamous Teniente Gimo of Dueñas. The most popular version, from which an episode of the 1990 Philippine horror classic film Shake Rattle & Roll 2 was loosely based, tells of a female student who got invited to a village feast by her friend, Teniente Gimo’s daughter. As the story goes, the night before the feast the student overheard that the family intended to butcher and eat her. Fearing for her life, she switched bracelets with the Teniente’s daughter who was fast asleep and disguised herself. This way she was able to flee the village. In the end, the Teniente killed his own daughter, mistaking her for the intended victim. The student reported to the authorities who arrested the Teniente and his family. The culprits were paraded around the town and were tagged as aswangs.
Another alleged aswang, whose story became an urban legend, is Maria Labo from Iloilo (although there are those who contend the story originated in Capiz, in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental, or in Sorsogon). As the story goes, Maria worked as a caregiver in Canada. There, it is assumed, she was turned into an aswang after inheriting it from her employer. When she returned to the Philippines tragedy befell her family. Maria butchered, cooked and ate her two children, and later fed them to her clueless husband. When the husband found out later, he hacked Maria with a machete, leaving a gaping wound in her face, hence the name Maria Labo. Labo in local dialect means “to hack”. But Maria survived and escaped and up to now continues to terrorize those who believe in the aswang. Her story was produced into a full feature film directed by veteran actor Roi Vinzon and was shown in theaters last November 2015.
In the province of Capiz, numerous tales on aswangs have proliferated for as long as anyone could remember. It is said that aswang communities actually exist in some parts of the province. Capiz became synonymous with the aswang. The province was even tagged as the “aswang capital of the Philippines”.
It is still questionable, however, if such creatures did and still thrive in Capiz. The ancient folk of Aklan, on the other hand, classified the aswang into four types: The flying Aswang Lupad, the flightless Aswang Malakat, The Aswang Gabunan who eats humans only once a year, and the self-segmenting Aswang Hubot. Is the aswang real or just a remnant of an ignorant past? Only the truth knows.
Below are a few identified aswang variants based on stories and accounts all over Western Visayas.
Andres, T.D. Dictionary of Filipino Culture and Values.
Ramos, Maximo D. The Creatures of Midnight.
Ramos, Maximo D. The Aswang Syncrasy in Philipine Folklore.