In a country with its cultures awash with religiosity - patron saints, Sto. Niños, Marian devotion, sightings, intercessions and miracles - and a fascination and disposition for the supernatural and mystical, it is not surprising to see the influences of religion and indigenous and tribal spiritualities in its healing modalities. And in faith healing, these are most obvious.
Referred to as the "international mecca for spiritual healing" and "the undisputed center of psychic surgery," the Philippines abounds in faith healers. And, in the smoldering divisiveness between mainstream medicine and alternative medicine, with its wall of divergent and irreconcilable differences - of science and mythologies, of dogma and folklore - faith healing widens this dividing wall.
Many of the ingredients of faith healing are generic to many of the healing modalities in Philippine alternative medicine. Many incorporate the use of prayers, massage, herbs; some include "new-age" ingredients of magnets, crystals, and prannic healing.
Although faith healing lingers in the center of this debate and controversy, the festering point is psychic bare-handed surgery. It increases the decibels of dissent, disagreement and denigrations by its debunkers. It is perhaps psychic surgery that will cause the twain to never meet, that which cements the emotional divide - a divide with a moat too wide and too deep and a bridge too tenuous for a merging of western and alternative medicine.
On one side of the divide, the medical establishment's community of skeptics - practitioners of orthodox medicine, physicians ruled by scientific dogma, logic and rationality, and the surgeons trained in the western anesthesia-prepped scalpel-incisive techniques - casting insinuations and accusations of fraud and fakery, charlatanism, mass hypnosis, sleight-of-hand, magic, satanism or voodoo, with recurring exposes of "bullets," fake blood, and animal organs in the surgical field.
On the other side, there is the community of believers: students and followers of faith healing and psychic surgery, countering and staking validity with a myriad of new-age concepts and theories laced with esoteric jargon: Fourth dimensional, mediumistic, Lemurian, paranormal, quantum physics, astral energies, materializations, ectoplastic formations, psychokinesis, spirit channeling, meditational. For the practioners — the faith healers and the psychic surgeons — the theories are distilled and simplified into one unifying explanation: that they perform their healing through the powers and intermediation of the Holy Spirit.
And in-between are those who
line up for hours waiting their turn, low on science lore and comprehension
but high on faith and hope - the rural and urban poor too destitute
to pursue costly mainstream therapies; the incurable and the terminal;
those on the brink of helplessness and hopelessness who have already
failed the ministrations of orthodox therapies, refusing to resign to
the dire prognosis and inevitabilities of their diseases. Indeed, for
many, it is a journey of hope and faith, fueled by prayers and the unyielding
belief in God and his intruments of intermediation, and the possibility
of a miracle.
The number of faith healers in the Philippines is uncertain; a community in flux, uncountable. They may easily number over ten thousand, many known only in the locality's word-of-mouth directory, preferring to practice in the anonymity and isolation of their deep rural habitats. Only a small number practice bare-handed surgery; and of these, only a handful considered "outstanding."
Consequently, it has spawned an industry and commerce of tourism and pilgrimages. And, inevitably, a slew of schemes and scams. As often as the stories of "cures and miracles," as frequent are the tales of the hapless traveler, emburdened with a disease with dire and diminishing hopes, preyed on or victimized by an endless variety of shams and exorbitant fees.
And among the healers themselves, pockets of vicious jealousies, intramural denigrations and the heirarchal struggle to be the "Muhammed Ali" of healers.
Ergo, travelers beware; the road to this mecca of healers can be quite predatory and inhospitable.