Cebu Urban Legend: Higugmaa ang Diyos, Kahadloki ang Diyos

Editor's Note: Urban legends are tall tales that emerged from stories shared in small circles that eventually grow to a point it gains a...


Editor's Note: Urban legends are tall tales that emerged from stories shared in small circles that eventually grow to a point it gains a life of its own. With little or no supporting evidence, these stories are somewhat based on real events but often intertwined with outright lies and half-truths. Usually, these are passed down to the next generation where it evolved to describe certain elements of horror, humor, and even morality.

We all know that religion plays a big role in Cebuano culture yet there are still remnants of our old animistic and pagan spirituality that we still believe in ghosts, supernatural beings, and even curses that it often disrupts our social cohesion in times of calamities and unforeseen crises. It goes hand in hand with the fact that we live in a country where natural disasters happen more often than not from tropical typhoons to earthquakes. People are primed to think about ideas that life can be short and it can be taken away in an instant.

Our fatalistic "bahala na" attitude fuels this collective belief that everything that will happen good or bad is already predestined because it's God's will. We put our fate into it because we all know that if bad things happen, it will happen come what may. It is our own way of avoiding the voice of reason and common sense. This is why many Cebuanos, Filipinos in general, often fall prey to religious cults and hysterias in the 80s and 90s.


The Story

Even before the age of social media, mass hysteria gave birth to an urban legend. The 90s was a time when the Philippines was still reeling from the effects of an economic recession and changing political climate years after the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos. We were facing rotating blackouts and devastating natural disasters like the Mount Pinatubo eruption and Typhoon Ruping and Mameng. The uncertainties of that time were the perfect catalyst for an urban legend to take root.

Our innate Christian culture of believing in the "end of the world" where we are all going to die with Jesus coming back to judge the living and the death is going to happen. Cult leaders and other fringe religious groups have jumped into the scene to take advantage of gaining more followers. Even though it called for a return to traditional Christian beliefs, it somewhat tried to merge it with a more indigenous lore.

In January 1988, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter that admonished the faithful 'to remember that God, who created this beautiful land, will hold us responsible for plundering it and leaving it desolate.' 

When the natural disasters came in succession (Typhoon Ruping in 1990, Typhoon Uring in 1991, Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991, the Typhoons Miding and Norming in 1994), prompted an aide of then-Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan to compare those disasters as wrath from God. It sums up what people might be thinking then - there is a collective pressure to regain God's good graces by renewing our faith. It was also during the time when the so-called Agoo Dancing Sun happened.

Even if some people might believe that they are devout Christians, many misinterpreted what was written in the Bible and end up coming with an extreme understanding of the world around them based on what they understand on cherry-picked lines from the scriptures.


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." -Matthew 22:37


"Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." -1 Peter 2:17


When translated in Cebuano, the meaning of these lines (especially the second one) are often misinterpreted and eventually get a more radical meaning to some people. This is where the urban legend took root. Our innate interest in chismis has spread hysteria to a whole new level.


The Myth and Legend

It is difficult to pinpoint as to who started it all but stories from people point to a certain radio show that was aired by a popular Cebu radio station. The radio anchor read a letter about a certain Edgar Zamora meeting a strange homeless boy at Plaza Independencia where he offered some peanuts out of pity. It was reported that the child asked the man to post "Higugmaa ang Dios, Kahadloki ang Dios" above their doors or else his family will be killed in a doomsday flood that is somewhat a mashup of stories from the Great Flood during Noah's time and the 10th plague of Egypt that killed all first-born sons during Moses' time.

Even before social media and cable television, posters bearing the message were plastered all over the city the day after that radio broadcast. Taped copies of the broadcast itself were circulated even to neighboring towns. The hysteria went up a notch higher that people started congregating in churches while some began prayer vigils day by day. There were even reports of signs (talimad-on) of paranormal sightings - three moons rising or a monster fish with one eye. Desperate times call for desperate measures, the government and church authorities tried to stamp out the so-called prophecy by banning further public broadcasts of the letter and prohibit the dissemination of any more posters.

That infamous radio show happened during the time when Typhoon Uring caused a massive flash flood that killed a lot of people in Ormoc. It was purportedly foretold by the boy that it would happen before the incident took place and a far worse flood would happen in Cebu City. However, different versions of the story have emerged as time goes by. Stories spread and putting that phrase have been made beyond doors and so cars have required signs from handwritten notes to plastic signs and stickers.

It is often said that having that sign will ensure that you will be spared from a flood that will wipe the Earth clean of sins. And what happened? Everyone believed in it even though the doomsday flood never happened. It lingered on everyone's collective consciousness for quite some time.


Long-Lasting Impact

Even after the mass hysteria that happened, there is an ebb and flow of such doomsday beliefs. One particular incident that reignited our continuing interest and fascination for the end of the world is when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Cebu and Negros triggered a tsunami scare that caused people to literally panic and run towards higher ground. Can't blame people to act that way since the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami have left an indelible mark on everyone's consciousness. 



Nowadays, the slogan can still be seen in various structures all over the city. It is a clear reminder of the mass hysteria that took over Cebu three decades ago.


Sources:

"In the Eye of the Storm: The Social Construction of the Forces of Nature and the Climatic and Seismic Construction of God in the Philippines," by Greg Bankoff

"St. Vincent and the Thunder-God: Narratives of Play and Apocalypse in Relation to a Central Visayan Island Fiesta," by Harold Olofson

"Bahala Na: A Philosophical Analysis," by Rolando M. Gripaldo

"Toxic Filipino Traits," by Dianne Zarina G. Savillo.

"The Curious Case of Judiel Nieva," by Jeans Cequina

"Mass Hysteria Jaclupan," by Jobers Bersales

"Tsunami warning triggers stampede in Cebu City"

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