‘Aswang’ in Central Mindanao?

JEERS TO several news organizations for a sensationalized report on alleged “aswang” (a mythical creature of Philippine folklore) attacks.

But CHEERS to MindaNews for refraining to play along with the “aswang” scare by making clear in their report what caused the incident and by providing context.

ABS-CBN 2’s Umagang Kay Ganda, TV Patrol, and TV Patrol Weekend, GMA News TV’s QRT, and InterAksyon released reports on alleged “aswang” attacks which relied heavily on a police statement and on the accounts of the alleged “victims.”

ABS-CBN’s morning show Umagang Kay Ganda (“Aswang umatake sa Cotabato?,” May 27, 2015) reported an alleged attack by an “aswang” in Barangay Tapudok, Aleosan, North Cotabato. According to the supposed victims, the “aswang,” which initially appeared as a black cat, took the form of a human and allegedly bit four individuals Monday night. Residents were reported to have placed garlic in their residences to keep the “aswang” away following the incident.

GMA News TV’s QRT also aired a similar report and showed a series of photos of wounds supposedly inflicted by the alleged “aswang.” (“4 katao, sugatan sa pag-atake raw ng aswang; mga biktima, pinagkakagat,” May 27, 2015)

InterAksyon also reported the alleged “aswang” attacks (“’Aswang’ attacks reported in several towns in Central Mindanao,” May 27, 2015). The report said the “aswang,” supposedly in the guise of a big dog, entered the house of an unidentified couple in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, and bit them. It disappeared after the husband was able to fight it off. The site provided a photo showing the wound inflicted by the alleged “aswang” on one of the victims. The story also reported the incident covered by Umagang Kay Ganda and QRT.

ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol (“Nangagat na pusa, aso nagbunsod ng takotsa ‘aswang,’” May 28, 2015) and GMA-7’s 24 Oras (“Umano’y pag-atake ng aswang, naiulat din sa Maguindanao; pero mga duktor, hindi naniniwala,” May 28, 2015) aired the same story in their evening newscasts. But 24 Oras presented a new perspective about the incident by offering a more logical and scientific explanation for the alleged “aswang” attacks:

Paliwanag ng mga doktor, mga normal na hayop lang daw ang nakakagat sa mga residente sa dalawang lugar. Ang mas dapat daw nilang katakutan ay yung rabies na dulot ng mga hayop. Kaya nararapat na magpaturok sila ng bakuna kontra rito (Doctors explain that only normal animals bit the residents in the two areas. They said the residents should fear getting infected with rabies instead. That is why it is important for the victims to get anti-rabies vaccine).”

MindaNews also reported on the alleged attacks (“Maguindanao, North Cotabato villagers arming against ‘aswang,’” May 29, 2015) but their report was better in its approach as it made clear early in the story that one of the alleged attacks was perpetrated by a rather big dog, which the victims and villagers have mistaken as an “aswang.”

The article’s closing statement explained that the beliefs in such creatures “persisted in many rural areas of the country.”

But as if to close the week, ABS-CBN 2 reported in TV Patrol Weekend another alleged aswang attack in Davao del Norte. Family of the ten-year-old girl who died was convinced she was killed by an aswang that attacked in their home during their sleep (“Babae, pinatay umano ng aswang,” May 31, 2015). The report said elders of the town believe the aswang comes out as bamboos grow during May. Following the incident, residents placed weapons in accessible areas and certain plants to keep the aswang away.

The police say otherwise, however, as their preliminary report said the wounds on the victim were cobra bites.

Besides sensationalizing, the report was also insensitive as it showed the victim’s wake and revealed her name as a blurred photo of her was shown. Including such details in the report were unnecessary and irrelevant.

This is not the first time the media have published stories about supernatural beings or occurrences. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) previously jeered the Manila Bulletin for a report about a 90-year-old man who had supposedly died but who suddenly came back to life (“Bulletin’s ‘miracle,’” December 23, 2014).

CMFR also published a monitor critical of the media’s reporting during the Halloween season (“Ghosts and goblins,” November 10, 2011). It cited Article 13, Section 1 of the Broadcast Code of the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP, Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines) which states that “[p]rograms featuring superstitious and pseudo-scientific beliefs (e.g. the supernatural)… shall be careful not to induce belief in them. Care shall be taken to prevent the exploitation of people who may be easily swayed by such superstitious and pseudo-scientific (sic) beliefs and practices.” The code warns broadcast networks to “be careful” in reporting such events.

Although a guide for broadcast media, the warning is nonetheless also applicable to other media, such as print and online.

In reporting such topics, the media should be wary of sensationalizing and inaccuracy, of which ABS-CBN 2’s Umagang Kay Ganda, TV Patrol, GMA News TV’s QRT, and Interaksyon were guilty. However, despite providing a more reasonable and believable explanation, ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol Weekend and GMA-7’s 24 Oras were still guilty of these lapses because it could have just directly addressed it instead of playing along with the aswang scare. By headlining their report as an attack by an “aswang,” the media sensationalized what could have been a simple report on animal attacks.

The issue was first called to CMFR’s attention by forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun in Twitter.