“Lovers of markets and mayhem should cross the Quezon Bridge over the Pasig River to Quiapo Church, home of the Black Nazarene.
The main reason to go to Quiapo, however, is not to see the church but to witness what’s happening on and around the church square, Plaza Miranda. Here and in the surrounding markets every manner of product is sold to a throng of humanity.”
-Lonely Planet Philippines
Plaza Miranda’s greeting to everyone, particularly to the churchgoer who has just carried out his or her religious practices, is a cacophony of hawkers only made more disconcerting by a rush of itinerant vendors and a number of apothecary stalls offering curious products and services—especially on a Friday.
What would baffle the uninitiated is the mainly exotic and occult-ish merchandise openly displayed on their proprietors’ makeshift kiosks (some have matter-of-factly accepted this assembly and are no longer puzzled by the mystery). In addition, these goods and services—ranging from the sale of color-coded candles, organic or herbal medicines, and amulets through fortune-telling, palm and tarot card reading—are not exactly church-sanctioned. A Quiapo coverage by Argosino and Giongco even calls this collective trade “the business of dark magic.” Case in point is Wallerstein’s article on the difficulties of curbing rabies in the Philippines because “[f]olk remedies still hold sway” in reference to the use of tandok, “a stone believed to absorb the rabies virus when held over the wound,” which is sold in Quiapo. Another example of the occult in Quiapo is the love potion or gayuma that one vendor sells for roughly P100 a bottle (it contains roots and a small piece of paper where some spell is written), mostly to women and gay men (Romero). The women supposedly get the potion to keep their boyfriends and husbands from wandering off, while some men use the mixture to attract more girlfriends or wives. There are also the manghuhula who foretell their clients’ fortune in love, business, and health or interpret dreams as it were (Villegas).
LOVE POTION in Quiapo. Photo by Purple Romero.
The presence of folk medicine within the vicinity of the Quiapo Church would surely inspire curiosity, since it is “one of the things that made Quiapo famous for a lot of the 'masa'” (QuiapoToday). This is perhaps due to the precolonial Filipinos’ belief in shamans and the traditional medicine man who is variously known as “arbularyo, tambalan, manghihilot, or manggagamot ... [who] use[s] herbal treatments as a primary medium for healing and community care” (De Mesa 125) coupled with the belief that “Quiapo has a healing effect” because of the large number of people who share the same faith within the same area (Bonilla 112).
This section of Quiapography focuses on organic and herbal medicines, in both raw and potion forms, with emphasis on the three most popular herbal products in Quiapo: the pamparegla, komprey, and pito-pito.
According to Vukoja, the most (in)famous of the folk medicine sold in Quiapo is the pamparegla. It is ostensibly taken to induce and normalize the menstruation period and reduce menstrual cramps, but it is more popularly used as an abortifacient. The liquid concoction, usually sold by the bottle, is typically displayed among other herbs and plants, while those in tablet or pill form are hidden until a buyer closes a deal. The price of these pills vary (P50 for six pills, according to Berger, though this pricing may have changed in the recent years). The ingredients of pamparegla, according to De Mesa, are makabuhay, sambong leaves, red sugar, skin of the dita fruit, and pharmaceutical preservatives (130-31). According to reports, herbal medicine vendors also sell commercial abortion pills (VVP), although the vendors themselves will readily deny this. The aforementioned pills are Cytotec (intended as an anti- ulcer) and Methergine (used to expel the placenta after giving birth), which are usually taken with the pamparegla (Dychiu). While wilful termination of pregnancy is illegal in the Philippines and “contrary to the teachings of the formal religion,” it is “culturally more acceptable than the programs for family planning erected on the basis of dollars of foreign aid” (Potts et al. 259). Despite the dubious efficacy of the brew, some claim that the potion is good for almost everything, such as weight loss and even erectile dysfunctions, among other maladies, depending on how you look (Grosberg).
CONCONCTIONS of pamparegla are sold in Quiapo, just outside the Church, with medication instructions included. Photo by Sidney Snoeck.
Komprey, another herbal medicine, is considered special because of its virtue as a panacea. According to De Mesa, komprey, considered a cure-all, is the most sought-after herb in Quiapo since it is a confirmed source of vitamin B12 and also a confirmed medical cure for liver diseases (128), although ingesting it as either salad or tea is not advisable (131). Komprey also has rosmarinic acid, chloogenic acid, caffein acid, and lithospermic acid (Kalusugan.Ph). The leaves and roots of the komprey could be used to cure coughs, asthma, constipation, hypertension, insomnia, cancer, and many other illnesses (ib.).
THE SEVEN ingredients of pito-pito. Photo by stuartxchange.org.
The Philippines is considered a developing country, and one could argue that Filipinos have already come a long way now that modern medicine is available, but that may only be for those who could afford it (Quiapo is popular as a bargain market after all). It is known that some diseases are inexplicably persistent even after patients have consulted with medical doctors, so people go to what would be considered alternative medicine in this era: “folk cures for obscure ailments” (Espiritu 77). Folk medicine also remains popular because it only takes faith to make it work, which, the lack thereof “would cause these remedies not to work” (Posadas 17). And as a folk healer by the name of Brother Ariel said, “[m]as effective ang kalikasan... Natural yan, Panginoon na ang may gawa niyan” (Argosino and Giongco). We will certainly see the medicinal herbs and concoctions in Quiapo for many years yet.
QUIAPO'S HERBAL medicines. Video posted by Jessamyn Joyce Ting.
The Glamor Gardens of Quiapo
Benigno C. Montemayor, Jr. | November 12, 2017
MAKABUHAY. One of the most popular and recognizable herbs in Quiapo, it is also a main ingredient, ironically, in the abortifacient pamparegla concoction. Photo by Sidney Snoeck.
KOMPREY, considered a cure-all, was used by the ancient Greeks to treat bronchial problems.
(De Mesa 128) Photo by Kalusugan.Ph.
Pito-pito (literally seven-seven in Filipino: the number seven is widely believed by users as essential to the healing powers of the medicine) consists of seven leaves or seeds each of banaba, guava, pandan, mango, coriander, alagaw, and anis “usually prepared as a decoction or a poultice and used in a wide variety of folkloric applications: headaches, fever, cough, colds, migraine, asthma, abdominal pains, diarrhea, etc.” (stuartxchange.org). It is also used to cure diabetes and kidney ailments, among others (De Mesa 131). Pito-pito has become so popular that it is commercially sold as tea even in drug stores.
Argosino, Isabella and Giongco, Audrey. “‘Believe It or Not’: Of Witch Doctors and Spells.” The LaSallian.com, 17 Nov. 2016, thelasallian.com/2016/11/17/of-witch-doctors-and-spells/. Accessed 02 Nov. 2017.
Berger, Sebastien. “Desperate Women Defy Abortion Laws.” The Telegraph, 21 Oct. 2005, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/1501159/Desperate-women-defy- abortion-laws.html. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
Bonilla, Celia M. “Devotion to the Black Nazarene as an Aesthetic Experience.” Quiapo: Heart of Manila. Edited by Fernando
Nakpil Zialcita. The Cultural Heritage Studies Program- ADMU and Metropolitan Manila Museum, 2016, pp. 96-124.
De Mesa, Karl R. “Street Magic.” Quiapo: Heart of Manila. Edited by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita. The Cultural Heritage Studies Program-ADMU and Metropolitan Manila Museum, 2016, pp. 125-147.
Dychiu, Stephanie. “Quiapo Church Battles Abortion in Front Yard.” GMA News, 18 Oct. 2009, www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/specialreports/174985/quiapo-church-battles- abortion-in-front-yard/story/. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
Espiritu, Roddy. Tagtaginep - My Dream of Opportunity, 2013.
Grosberg, Michael, et al. Lonely Planet Philippines, 2015.
“Herbal Medicines of Quiapo.” QuiapoToday, n. d., quiapotoday.wordpress.com/traditional-beliefs-2/herbal-medicines-of-quiapo/. Accessed 07 Nov. 2017.
“Komprey.” Kalusugan.Ph., Jul. 2015, kalusugan.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/komprey.jpg. Accessed 09 Nov. 2017.
“Pito-pito.” Philippine Medicinal Plants, stuartexchange.org, n. d., www.stuartxchange.org/Pitopito.html. Accessed 09 Nov. 2017.
Posadas, Kathleen. “Quiapo on the Fringe: Folk Medicine and Occult Practices.” “Organized Chaos: A Cultural Analysis of Quiapo,” pp. 16-22.
Potts, Malcolm, Diggory, Peter, and Peel, John. Abortion. Cambridge UP, 1977, p. 259.
Romero, Purple. “Mixing Science and Faith, Herbal Medicine Markets Offer Cures and Jobs.” next city.org., 22 Feb. 2013, nextcity.org/informalcity/entry/mixing-science-and-faith- herbal-medicine-markets-offer-cures-and-jobs. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
See, Aie Balagtas. “‘Gayuma’ Still A Quiapo Bestseller—But Not for Usual Reasons.” inquirer.net, 12 Feb. 2017, newsinfo.inquirer.net/870616/gayuma-still-a-quiapo- bestseller-but-not-for-usual-reasons. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
Snoeck, Sidney. “Makabuhay.” My Sarisari Store, 11 Sep. 2007, my_sarisari_store.typepad.com/ photos/uncategorized/2007/09/11/dsc_00483ccc.jpg. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
_____. “Pamparegla Quiapo.” My Sarisari Store, 11 Sep. 2007, my_sarisari_store.typepad.com/ photos/uncategorized/2007/09/11/pampareglaquiapo.jpg. Accessed 08 Nov. 2017.
Ting, Jessamyn Joyce. “RTVP 2015 Explanatory Report: Quiapo's Herbal Medicines." YouTube.com, 23 Feb. 2016. Accessed 13 Nov. 2017.
Villegas, Dennis. “Madame Delea: A Quiapo Fortune Teller.” blogspot.com, 06 Jan. 2009,
dennisvillegas.blogspot.com/2009/01/madame-delea-quiapo-oracle.html. Accessed 07 Nov. 2017.
Vukoja, Vesna. “Quiapo: Manila’s Religious Melting Pot.” Transterra Media, 14 Sep. 2014,
transterramedia.com/collections/3291-quiapo-manila-s-religious-melting-pot. Accessed 02 Nov. 2017.
VVP. “Quiapo Priest: Herbal Medicine Vendors Selling Abortion Pills.” GMA News, 19 Aug. 2011, www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/229874/quiapo-priest-herbal-medicine- vendors-selling-abortion-pills/story/. Accessed 02 Nov. 2017.
Wallerstein, Claire. “Helming Stones Hinder Manila’s Rabies Effort.” The Guardian, 16 Aug. 1999, www.theguardian.com/world/1999/aug/16/philippines. Accessed 02 Nov. 2017.