Why Philippine Ghost Stories and Local Folklore Deserve More Than Just Halloween Specials

Words by Frances Leones

During the months of October and November, it’s common for our local TV stations to do horror specials that focus on famous Philippine ghost stories. As a predominantly Christian country with a rich history, the presence of ghosts and other supernatural entities has become ingrained in our cultural memory in the form of superstitions we learn from our elders as well as horror films like Shake, Rattle, and Roll.

Most of my childhood Halloween and Undas memories involved me sitting on the couch at night, watching the annual Rated K Halloween special. Watching Korina do that special in a cemetery and giving ominous introductions to whatever spooky tale her Sunday show had lined up for Halloween or All Saints Day never failed to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Every time the ghost or monster character appeared on-screen, I’d cringe and take cover behind a pillow or scream.

The chilling re-enactments of stories involving creatures from Philippine folklore such as the aswang or White Lady upped the spooky factor and, to this day, I can still remember brief moments from those stories. For the 90s kids who were allowed to stay up late during Undas, Noli de Castro’s annual Magandang Gabi Bayan Halloween episode was guaranteed to get audiences spooked as he covered stories of urban myths and hauntings taking place in different areas around the country like UP Los Baños – said to be haunted by the spirits of those who had died there during World War II.

There’s no doubt that we Pinoys like to get scared and, more often than not, most of us have a ghost story to share – be it a personal encounter with the paranormal or an urban myth passed down from generation to generation. And those stories are just waiting to be snatched up by TV crews to be used in their Halloween segments.

But when I think about it now, I feel like we’ve relegated stories of the supernatural into these two dates – October 31 and November 1. It’s not like hauntings happen only during those specific holidays. Encountering a ghost, an aswang, tikbalang, or even a demon can happen anytime. Not only that, we have several haunted locations in our country that are just waiting to be explored and investigated by paranormal investigation teams. I think covering these stories on local media not just in Halloween specials could be very interesting to audiences and maybe even provide a boost to the Philippine entertainment industry.

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We’re always on the hunt for something new to watch, whether it’s a new Netflix show online or a teleserye on ABS-CBN or GMA. If you’re tired of the usual family melodramas on TV, maybe a show focused on investigating haunted areas in the Philippines by a group of Pinoy ghostbusters will be your cup of tea. The challenge for creating a show like this will most likely be striking a balance between horror and critical investigation, but I think it can be pulled off.

A favorite paranormal investigation show of mine is Buzzfeed Unsolved Supernatural, hosted by Buzzfeed hosts Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej. It’s a popular YouTube series and a big part of its success comes from the witty banter between believer Ryan and skeptic Shane that keeps the atmosphere light even while the two of them are investigating haunted areas in America like the Sarah Winchester Mystery Mansion or even the UK like Colchester Castle.

Now take the format of this show and replace Ryan and Shane with any iconic duo in Filipino entertainment and have them investigate places like Baguio’s Teacher’s Camp or Balete Drive. Can you imagine the possibilities?

“Kubin and Nicole”
Arnold Arre
Digital Paint, 2018

Culturally speaking, covering these stories involving urban legends and folklore is a great way to reconnect with our native culture and beliefs. We have a menagerie of creatures from Filipino folktales but we know very little about them. If you had a relative or a yaya from the province, chances are that you were told cautionary tales about disturbing the earthen mound of the “nuno sa punso” as well as other stories of creatures like the tikbalang or diwata as a child. A show focused on these myths could be a great way to introduce these cryptids to us and also enrich our knowledge of Philippine mythology. Why just focus on foreign myths like the Scottish Loch Ness Monster or the American Bigfoot when you can also talk about our moon-eating Bakunawa?

Whether you’re a believer in the supernatural or a skeptic wanting to debunk the myths and legends, letting our local ghost stories and folk tales have a more constant appearance in our media will definitely be a great way to learn about our country’s supernatural culture and connect with others via sharing our spooky tales, all in the spirit of scaring ourselves silly.

Would you watch a paranormal investigation show or a series focusing on Philippine folklore? Have a spooky story you would want to see covered on TV or in a web show? Let us know in the comments!


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