The healer of Brgy. Hagdang Bato in Mandaluyong City is well-known among the locals of the community; ask anyone around, and they’d be all too eager to give directions to his place. Tucked behind the barangay’s health center is his home—a surprisingly expansive property in the heart of the city. Strangely reminiscent of the province amid the urban backdrop, the air is filled with the sound of saw humming against wood, trees swaying peacefully in the wind, and a pop song blaring from an old radio.
At the heart of the abode is Edgardo Villanueva Lerpido—or Mang Gary, as he insisted he be called—a spiritual healer for more than five decades now.
Stories to tell in the dark
He apologizes for the mess in his house, explaining that he was in the middle of making incense. Carefully wiping the table, it is evident that Mang Gary is beset by the years: he walks with a limp, his face lined with age. His eyes, however, are sharp, and his countenance composed—unmistakably ready to tell his story.
As a young man, he went up Mt. Banahaw in Quezon, where he was proclaimed as one of the mountain’s “chosen ones” by a member of a brotherhood residing in the area. When the brotherhood started singing, something strange began to happen to Mang Gary’s body. “[‘Yung] pakiramdam ko, iyon bang sumasabay na ako sa pagkanta nila; sumasayaw ako, katawan lang, pero hindi kasama ‘yung paa. Ngayon hindi ako makapagsalita, [‘yung] bibig ko nakasara. [‘Yung] kamay ko, nakaganyan din—hindi ko matanggal,” he recounts.
(I perceived how I started to conform to their chants; my body was dancing, while my feet stood still. I couldn’t speak and my mouth stayed closed; my hands were the same way—I couldn’t move them.)
Mang Gary says that he was chosen by a spiritual companion referred to as gabay, which when translated literally means “guide”. Once an individual is accompanied by a gabay, he becomes a baptized healer, capable of wielding tools effective against anyone he deems “cursed”. “Sila’y nagpapakilala ayon sa gawa, hindi sa salita,” he adds.
(They make their presence known through actions, not words.)
Tools of the trade
When asked about his healing methods, Mang Gary excitedly shows off two wooden staffs. These are the tools of his trade; while some faith healers use herbs and concoctions for their work, all he needs are his trusty instruments. Fashioned from a tree that grows in Nueva Ecija and baptized with holy water, he explains that the staffs are highly sought after among healers. The staff, he explains, is used by being tapped lightly on the patient’s legs; if they twitch on their own accord, the patient is cursed.
His hands are also not to be underestimated. With direction from his gabay, Mang Gary says that he can execute a special kind of hilot, where his touch can coax the lamig—malevolent energy of a curse—out of a sick person. “Kusang gumagalaw ang mga kamay ko; itinuturo [ng gabay] ang paghihilot ko,” he says.
(My spiritual guide moves my hands when I heal people.)
Other tools that he uses in his work are a comb made out of an ox’s horn, and a polished half of a deer horn. The former allows him to retaliate against the mangkukulam—witches with ill intentions. Mang Gary claims that brushing the comb against a cursed patient allows him to inflict pain against the mangkukulam who cursed the person.
The latter allows him to pinpoint the location of the affliction. He says that by placing the horn on a person’s fingers, he can sense the condition of corresponding body parts; for example, the pointer finger is for the heart, and the middle finger is for the eyes and the head.
Mang Gary also puts great emphasis on the power of words in his line of work. Aside from his tools, he utters orasyon—chants or prayers from Latin books he has studied—to cure his patients’ spirits.
Leap of faith
Fondly gazing at the staffs cradled in his hands, Mang Gary recalls one, among many narratives, where faith in his craft played a fundamental role in his patient’s recovery. These instances were where those skeptical toward his gift bore witness to his capabilities as a spiritual healer. “Hindi sila naniniwala sa albularyo, pero nagpumilit ang pasyente na magpagamot sa akin…Eh, sa akin nagtiwala siya, ayun maayos na siya,” he reveals.
(His family doesn’t believe in spiritual healers, but the patient insisted on trying it out. Since he trusted me, he’s better now.)
The development of trust—or the patient’s own sense of faith—in the process has proven to be a crucial aspect of the treatment, as Mang Gary explains that spiritual healing is a two-way street. He merely acts as a guide to help address his patients’ ailments, providing them with the orasyon and the instructions on how to proceed with the treatment. However, the success of the process depends entirely on the patient’s will and desire to be healed. “Sila ang magliligtas sa sarili nila, hindi ako. Dahil hindi [sa] habang panahon kasama nila ako,” Mang Gary affirms.
(They have to be the one to save themselves since I won’t be present to help them forever.)
This emphasis on faith, be it toward a higher being or concerning the practice of spiritual healing itself, is the bedrock of Mang Gary’s approach. As such, he clarifies that his spiritual practices don’t necessarily contradict those and other Christian traditions—he holds certain Catholic beliefs himself and even wears rosaries and other religious articles or amulets for guidance and protection. Mang Gary believes that he doesn’t have to pick one faith over the other, but that faith in general holds more power than we can imagine.
Believe it or not
The practices and manner of treatment that spiritual healers use may still be riddled with mystery, but Mang Gary urges people to open their minds to the possibilities of the mystical and obscure art of spiritual healing. “‘Wag niyong lagyan ng limitasyon ang isipan [niyo],” he emphasizes.
(Don’t limit yourselves to what you think you already know.)
For Mang Gary, it matters not whether one believes the numerous stories and accounts that he shares; all he asks is that people remain curious and open-minded when faced with the mysterious or the unknown.