In May 1953, Clarita Villanueva, an 18-year-old native of Bacolod City, hogged headlines in the local and international scene.
But this was not because of an achievement in sports or entertainment. She became famous in what would turn out to be the first recorded “legit” demonic possession case in Asia.
Clarita had it rough growing up.
She went to Manila after her parents died. To earn a living, she worked as a maid until she fell in love and eloped with her lover. But her happiness was cut short when she found out that her partner was married.
She broke up with him and started working as an exotic dancer. One night, after watching a late-night movie, Clarita was picked up by the police while on her way home. They suspected her of being a vagrant or a homeless person. This incident brought her to the old Bilibid Prison in Manila, which changed her life forever.
The two “things”
Just a few days inside the slammer, Clarita’s world turned upside down. Her situation became hellish as days went by. She claimed that she was seeing strange creatures that would go after her and bite her in different parts of her body. She described the two “things” as terrifying creatures. The bigger of the two had curly hair, two fangs and large eyes.
Clarita often screamed and became hysterical during the attacks, after which she lost consciousness. Guards rushed to her prison cell and were surprised that she bore various bite marks.
Things got creepier as many claimed that they witnessed how Clarita struggled and saw her body being bitten by what they claimed was an “invisible vampire.”
Then Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson, who got wind of the phenomenon, visited the now “demon-possessed” Clarita. She was ordered to be diagnosed at the city morgue. Chills were suddenly felt by the tough local leader, as within 15 minutes of sitting beside her, he personally saw bite marks appear out of nowhere on the victim’s hands. The “thing” bit her while he was holding her hand.
According to medical examiner Mariano Lara, he too was scared when he saw firsthand the demonic attacks.
To him, the bites were “otherworldly” since they were “too large” and round, unlike a human bite which is elliptical. It also seemed to have been made by molars.
Experts weigh in
Experts in the medical and spiritual fields tried to explain how these things occurred, or the reasons behind it. Others suspected Clarita to be suffering from insanity or a mental disorder known as “hysterical fugue.”
But many people were convinced that there was no other reason behind the attacks except for demons.
It was then that they called in a priest.
Rev. Lester Sumrall, assisted by two Protestant ministers, came in and prayed over Clarita to overcome the invisible devils.
Eyewitness accounts said that Clarita suddenly acted in a violent way. She screamed at the minister, telling him to go away. She would change and act like a normal person, and then become violent again. She started cursing God until the priest recited the Lord’s Prayer to which Clarita, again in a calm state, started following his words. It was at this moment that she said that the “thing” went out of the window.
So, how much of the story is true?
History of Philippine exorcism
Although it was published numerous times and even had a movie starring Jodi Sta. Maria and was featured in various horror shows, the sensational story of Clarita Villanueva was said to have converted hundreds of thousands of people into the Christian faith.
Let’s take a dive into demonic possessions in the Philippines:
Exorcism in the Philippines, like in other parts of the world, has a long history that is deeply intertwined with the country’s cultural and religious beliefs.
Exorcisms here are seen as key to dealing with rising depression and mental problems. However, not every attempt to remove evil spirits is effective. Interestingly, some people who practice occult arts say they can get rid of evil spirits from a person.
A lot of people don’t believe in exorcism; others think the symptoms are merely of mental illness.
But the Archdiocese of Manila appears to show its importance by building an exorcism center.
The Archdiocese of Manila – Office of Exorcism said, “A product of more than seven years of prayers, planning and fundraising, this religious structure will be the first of its kind in Asia, if not the world.”
The Saint Michael Center for Spiritual Liberation and Exorcism, which broke ground last May 17, will be constructed on Bernardino Street corner EDSA, Guadalupe Viejo in Makati.
Devils are real
Fr. Peter Fortin of the Society of St. Pius X told republicasia that devils are real.
“Yes. We have proof and these are in the Gospels and we have many cases of demonic possession,” Fr. Fortin said, clarifying that he himself has not done exorcism.
He is a Catholic priest assigned to Our Lady of Victories Church in New Manila, Quezon City, and is also the current principal of Our Lady of Victories Catholic School in Quezon City.
Fr. Fortin said that there are many cases of demonic possessions. He cited Fr. Gabriel Amorth, who dealt with some 60,000 in the past three decades.
He explained that perhaps that among the reasons that people become “possessed” is because they allow themselves to get closer to the devil than to God.
“Perhaps they sell their soul to the devil or maybe they did not get what they wanted and made a pact. Or perhaps they are living in a seditious lifestyle giving in to all sorts of pleasure, drugs, alcohol, the pleasures of the flesh. We can say the connection to the devil is becoming more and with God, less,” he said.
In the case of Clarita, Fr. Fortin described her as a “poor girl.”
“My heart goes out to her and what happened to her,” he said.
But he said that based on his research, he said time where very different then, and that for an actual exorcism to proceed, the Church had to rule out psychological problem.
“The church is very strict about it,” he said.
A scientific explanation
Psychologist Daniela Samaniego-Tividad admitted that she does not believe in demonic possessions.
“Personally and professionally, I do not believe in demonic possession because with the advancement of technology and methodologies we have nowadays, almost everything can be explained from a scientific perspective,” she told republicasia.
Clarita’s actions and manifestations can be attributed to psychological reasons.
“From the stance of a practitioner living in today’s time, Clarita’s experience, dubbed as a case of ‘demonic possession,’ may actually be attributed to a manifestation of mental illness. I cannot blame though psychologists and doctors at that time when they seemed to have lost hope for Clarita as interventions and treatments back then weren’t as progressive as they are now,” she said.
Samaniego-Tividad said that an initial look based on what was written in history showed one thing: Clarita may have been suffering from schizophrenia.
“It is characterized by distortion in thinking patterns, emotions, perception, and even the language or speech and motor behavior are also affected,” she said.
“Most often than not, actions of a person who is believed to be possessed by evil spirits or demons may actually represent symptoms of schizophrenia. One of which is hallucination manifested through perception of sensory experiences even without the presence of external stimuli (may nakikita o naririnig na hindi nakikita o naririnig ng iba), just like Clarita’s testimony about the two entities which hurt her despite the fact that she was alone in her prison cell,” she added.
But for Samaniego-Tividad, she said that the troubled past that Clarita may have gone through, especially her arrest, might have broken her.
“Her life experiences and the environment she grew up with definitely played crucial role on how things unfolded for her, particularly with regards to her mental well-being. Poverty, poor family dynamics, lack of education, unpleasant sexual encounters, and even her failed romantic relationship, are all stressful situations that have put Clarita in a much more vulnerable position to develop a psychological disorder,” she said.
Whether or not you believe, fact of the matter is, when you sense there is someone with you while you are alone, or hairs at the back of your neck starts standing up, or just can’t explain things, one attributed it to the otherworldly.
But then Science. Yes, science tries to answer everything happening to us.
It’s up to you what you believe in. We respect you for your beliefs, because in a world with angels and demons, science is always and all ways there to try to debunk it.
With reports from Bryan Gadingan, Joanna Deala, Angeline Marcelino and Richie Perianes