Exorcism in the Philippines

The first time Gabriel Cabaltera* noticed that her mother was different was when she was four. She had awoken at three in the morning to find her mother gone from the bed. She searched the house, then wandered outside, where she found her mother Tina” standing on the roof of their house. “I don’t know what she was doing there,” Cabaltera says in Tagalog. “She had a cloth covering her head.”

When Cabaltera turned six, she kept waking up at 3 a.m. for no reason. Sometimes, she’d catch a glimpse of her mother with a cloth over her head, a candle lit inside, in between herself and the fabric. “The blanket wasn’t burning at all,” Cabaltera says. “That’s what scared me.”

She was 14 when her mother was exorcised. The priest who performed the rite was Father Jeffrey Quintela, parish priest of San Isidro Labrador Parish in Nangka, Marikina. Aside from being Director of Liturgy and Worship, Fr. Quintela is also the Chief Exorcist of the Diocese of Antipolo.

Photo from Pixabay

Exercise on Exorcism

As a Catholic country, we hold a special fascination for demonic possession. That the adversary of the God we worship would send his minions, or sometimes drop by himself, to take over a human body or entice someone to give up their immortal soul.

For a time, the Catholic Church downplayed the role of exorcism. In 1964, after the Second Vatican Council, the Order of the Exorcist, which had always been part of a priest’s ordination, was removed from the new rite of priestly ordination. Afterwards, a priest was allowed to perform the Rite of Exorcism if he was appointed to do so by his bishop. To this day, even with the Pope publicly calling for the need for more exorcists, Exorcism has been largely viewed as outdated, so much so that only a few parishes have an exorcist.

Fr. Quintela was allowed to conduct exorcisms by his bishop, the Most Reverend Gabriel Reyes, in August 2014. “It’s an authority given in line with Pope Francis’ desire to liberate the oppressed, obsessed, and possessed,” Fr. Quintela says in Tagalog.

40 Days, 40 Nights

Demons and demonic possession has been around ever since the fall of man. “Even Jesus himself was tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights,” Fr. Quintela says. “If it can happen to Jesus and the saints, it can happen to regular people. That’s why this ministry was established, so we can protect the afflicted.”

In some cases, especially those where the Catholic Church refuses to or cannot intervene for whatever reason, a lay person may be called to perform an exorcism.

Professional paranormal investigator Robert Rubin, founder of Mysterium Philippines and one of the leading tarot readers in the country, successfully banished a spirit that was possessing a teenage girl.

“When it comes to spirit possession, I think the deliverance ministry, meaning a person with strong faith, can intervene,” he says, before qualifying: “I’m not an exorcist. I’ve been a part of exorcism but I only support it. We still have priests who help us. If I see a genuine case of possession, the very first thing I do is to call up the Diocese and ask for help.

“I know the rules behind these and they should be followed,” he adds. “If someone is sick, you send them to the doctor… If someone is possessed, you bring them to a priest. I’ve handled cases of spirit possession. But if it’s demonic possession, I won’t even go near it.”

A Stone to Swallow

Cabaltera, the teen whose mother was possessed as a result of her involvement with the occult, is familiar with how her mother acquired her supernatural abilities. When her mother was three, her lelang — her grandmother — gave her a stone and told her to swallow it, which she did. When her mother asked her who she was speaking to, the child said she was speaking to lelang. Her mother paled and said, “Don’t you remember? Lelang died the other day.” They ran out of the house.

Cabaltera’s mother’s powers manifested when she was 14. Every medical test yielded nothing, and when they brought her to a priest, she was turned away because he said he couldn’t handle the case. “My grandmother has stories of trying to hold my mother down to keep her from floating,” Cabaltera says.

Fearsome Four

There are four stages to demonic possession: manifestation, infestation, oppression, and possession. Manifestation is when a person unintentionally invites a demon in, usually through seemingly harmless things like using an Ouija board. Infestation looks like signs of haunting such as apparitions, unexplained noises, and poltergeist activity.

Fr. Quintela says that infestation can arise from the most innocuous of things, such ‘pagpapadugo,’ the ritual sacrifice of a chicken to strengthen the foundations of a home and keep the construction workers safe. “To be fair, most engineers don’t know that this is an occult practice,” Fr. Quintela says. “So instead of asking a priest to bless the ground, they bloody the ground because it keeps the workers safe, but it’s the family who will live in the house that suffers.”

Another way a demonic infestation can occur is when someone, usually household help who practice the occult or ‘have a third eye’ is invited inside, as the Church believe that anything that isn’t of God is automatically of the devil. Demons also enter a house when something evil has happened there, such as a murder. “Households that curse a lot,” Fr. Quintela says. “Or sometimes, they bring in an antique with a demon in it.”

Oppression is when the demon starts to affect its victim psychologically in an attempt to have the person give up their soul. This is the stage people relate to demonic possession and is what is portrayed in exorcism movies. “They want to possess in order to corrupt a person. A possession can take years. Of course, you can have a scenario wherein the person has great personal faith but can still undergo demonic malevolence when the crack hits the fan. Their whole identity falls apart, their will power deteriorates. It breaks them apart,” Rubin says. “Some people who become possessed are victims of abuse and all sorts of horrible traumas.”

Full or perfect possession is when the person is so far gone that not only does the demon have full control over its host’s body and mind, the person is actually in league with it. Many people say that it is almost impossible to rescue someone who has willed their soul to damnation in this way. “The one thing that makes the water boil in possession, whether we admit it or not, is consent, Rubin says. “Either consciously or unconsciously. If you don’t give consent, then the demonic forces will simply surround you.”

Smells like Rotten Egg

In his book Hostage to the Devil, Fr. Malachi Martin says that, “Demonic Possession is not a static condition, an unchanging state. Nor does one become possessed suddenly, the way one might break an arm or catch the measles. Rather, Possession is an ongoing process. A process that affects the two faculties of the soul: the mind, by which an individual receives and internalizes knowledge. And the will, by which an individual chooses to act upon that knowledge.”

“When the person is possessed, it is an urgent matter,” Fr. Quintela says. The Church recognizes four signs of possession: the ability to speak a language unknown to the person (“In one of my cases, a house help spoke Latin.”); the display of supernatural strength, such as a frail old women needing four burly men to hold her down during exorcism; the ability to disclose hidden things, usually other people’s sins, which is why it is important for the priest to go to confession before he performs an exorcism; and lastly, an aversion to religious objects.

There are other signs: “Follow the nose. If they smell like rotten eggs, like a sewer. (Notice) the eyes. If a person is definitely possessed, they will avoid eye contact with someone who (sensitive),” Rubin says. “In case of demonic possession, number one is isolation. You’d see this person surgically cut away from support groups: friends, family, lovers. Two (is) a complete degradation of the person’s identity… They would stop doing things that makes them them. Three, you’d see a very big extreme change in bodily functions. Either they go, out of nowhere, extremely fat or they’d go extremely thin. Four, you’d notice that they would know things and act certain ways, (and) be responsive in very polarizing ways to anything religious or holy. Like if you know a faithful person who’s suddenly become blasphemous. And they have this innate ability of knowing your sins… These are but many signs of possession but I would say it’s the isolation.”

Choir Interrupted

Cabaltera’s mother was Fr. Quintela’s first patient. “He heard about mommy’s story after Bishop gave him the faculty to become an exorcist,” the teen says. “Once, during choir practice, she became possessed. That’s how I found out. They said that he exorcised a lot of demons from her. They tell you their names before they leave. I didn’t see it, but while she was being exorcised, I could feel unseen presences around me.”

Performing the Rite of Exorcism involves a lot of preparation physically, mentally, and spiritually. “This is a battle. It is spiritual warfare,” Fr. Quintela says. “I confess my sins before I perform exorcism. I ask the help of my comrades, like St. Michael the Archangel. I never fight without the blessing of Mama Mary. The devil is afraid of the Blessed Mother. And of course, I invoke the name of Jesus. One thing I need to consider is I need to do it with humility. The devil is terribly afraid of a humble person. If we are humble, the devil is afraid of us. That’s the reason they became the devil. Because of pride. They want to be like God. They want to outdo God. Only a humble person can be tasked to perform exorcism. If I rely on myself, nothing will happen. But if I ask that God
intervene all the way, then I believe the case will be closed. I have people with me because the person can get violent, although I’ve never been hurt by anyone (yet).”

The Rite Stuff

Fr. Quintela also dons an exorcism stole over his priestly robes. It is purple, the color connected to the Sacrament of Confession. “Let me tell you, confession is more powerful than exorcism,” he says. “Confession is a sacrament. Exorcism is just a sacramental. Exorcism liberates the body, confession liberates the soul.”

The priest’s stole is decorated with the pictures of two saints–Padre Pio and Gemma Galgani. “These are two saints who fought the devil in their lifetimes. (They) experienced the stigmata and were tormented physically by the devil but because of their holiness and faith, they were able to triumph over the evil one.” Underneath the pictures, exorcistic words from the Benedictine medal—Latin words used in the Rite of Exorcism—are stitched in white.

The Rite starts with prayers seeking the protection of the priest, his helpers, and the victim by the Blood of Jesus and the Mantle of Mary. The Rite of Exorcism is read in full, usually in Latin because it is believed to be the language the demons understand the most. As Fr. Quintela does this, he takes note of words that affect the demons negatively the most. He repeats them in order to weaken it some more. He also uses sacramentals—blessed exorcised oil, exorcised salt, exorcised water, the Benedictine medal and the crucifix—traditional weapons of spiritual battle.

The length of time an exorcism takes depends on the strength of the demons and the will of the person they inhabit. When he thinks they’ve been expelled, the priest looks for signs of liberation. One of them is to have the person say the names of Jesus and Mary. If the person does this successfully, they are free from demonic influence. Afterwards, everyone prays together to thank God and to cleanse themselves.

“It can be a long process, but there is a sense of fulfillment,” Fr. Quintela says.

Mighty Difference

There is a difference between spiritual and demonic possession.

“Demons are fallen angels who fought against God,” Fr. Quintela explains. “There are also damned souls who chose to stray from the grace of the Lord. The elementals–let’s consider this the minions of the devil. I’ve never encountered an elemental in my experience as an exorcist. We really believe they are all just demons.”

The Catholic Church doesn’t have a monopoly on demonic activity. “I’m not saying that only a Catholic priest can cast out demons,” Fr. Quintela says. “Other religions have exorcists. Christ said, ‘if they are not against us, then they are with us.’ And whenever they use the name of Jesus, I believe the power of the name of Jesus, is absolute—it doesn’t choose (who says it in sincerity). But of course, in our religion, exorcists are authorized by the Bishop and by the Church.”

Rob agrees, but for a different reason. “You have to remember that the thing that gives priest power when it comes to performing an actual exorcism [is the approval of the Church]. That priest doesn’t only represent his own faith. (He is the) living embodiment of Catholicism. That is the combined faith of millions of people. And that’s very powerful,” he says. “When people say the Lord’s Prayer, this is something that goes back hundreds
of years. This is a tradition that people give and have given energy to. That’s a powerful collective energy.”

He adds, “That’s why I’m still Catholic by religion, even if I do all these things.”

Like Cockroaches in the Open

Exorcism cases are on the rise, but Fr. Quintela believes that the numbers have always remained the same, it’s just that, with the Pope’s thrust towards exorcism, more demons have chosen to show themselves, in the same way that cockroaches go out in the open when a room is sprayed with insecticide. “Here in Antipolo, I noticed that as soon as we exorcists arrived, the cases came out in the open,” Fr. Quinta says. “But in places where
there are no exorcists, things are quiet. That is not a good sign because it means the devil is complacent.”

“It’s time that (the Catholic Church) began to get worried. Thirty years ago, you’d have one exorcism case per country. What the (Catholic Church) realized is they’ve become outnumbered. But they cannot be so polarized in it,” Rubin says. “Some exorcists will say ‘Oh Rob reads tarot, he’s with the demons.’ No, it’s not black and white. I know where my faith is. If people are more open minded, it will encourage more recruits to join the cause of exorcism.”

“Although past Popes have urged all the bishops in every diocese to have an exorcism ministry, Pope Francis has made an effort to prioritize it. He’s also written to Conferences of Bishops of the need of an exorcism ministry in each diocese,” Fr. Quintela says.

Few Good Men

In the Philippines, not all Dioceses have this ministry. Antipolo, which has five exorcists, is a rare case. Manila has five, Cabanatuan has seven, while Pasig, Cubao, and Paranñaque have one each. And yet, this is not enough. “There is a dire need for more exorcists because of all the cases coming to light,” the priest adds.

Unfortunately, only a few priests are up to the task. “Many priests say it’s not their forte or they’re scared,” Fr. Quintela says. “But that’s okay because while not all priests can perform exorcisms, all priests can hear confessions. I tell them to have people confess because it lightens their load and they will eventually be liberated. That’s the purpose of the ministry: To lead the person back to God.”

Stray Wind

After she was successfully freed from her demonic shackles, the first thing Cabaltera’s mother realized is that life just got a whole lot harder. Until now, the woman confesses that demons still torment her. “But she got the hang of it,” the teen says. “It meant a lot that she finally got to have a normal life. Before the exorcism, she could see things that weren’t there.”

The demons haven’t left the family alone, though. Even the teen Cabaltera occasionally experiences demonic attacks. “Sometimes I feel a stray wind,” she says. “Or my head begins to ache and I have a hard time breathing. That’s when I use blessed salt and oil.”

Keep Vigilant, Stay Holy

Everyone loves a good exorcism movie: The demon is vanquished and life goes on. In real life, things don’t end after a person is exorcised. “It’s up to that person on whether they stay saved,” Fr. Quintela says. This means they have to keep vigilant, stay holy.

Some are required to go to mass every day and go to confession regularly. Prayer is very important. As is the conscious, every day, every hour, every minute the decision to stay away from what caused the possession is important. It’s comparable to a recovering addict: rehabilitation is lifelong.

Fr. Quintela required Cabaltera’s mother to hear mass daily and to go to confession at least once a month. Until now, the woman says that demons still hurt her and entice her to return to her old life. Her daughter, even though she never had any dealing with the occult, feels the effects of her mother’s exorcism. Just a few days before the interview, she woke in the night to feel a heavy weight on her chest. It went away after she applied holy oil on herself and sprinkled salt near the bed. “I used to see demons,” she says.

“Satan came to me in a dream and told me not to believe Fr. Jeff, he even said ‘Fr. Jeffrey’,” she says. “I don’t see them anymore.”

As far as Rubin knows, the girl from Lucena has been fine. “This is just one of those things I think that I did the right thing at the right time. It could have been a lot worse.”

“It’s not an easy task. It’s a dirty job, because you are dealing with dirty beings,” Fr. Quintela says. “But by the grace of God, I know that good will triumph over evil. That’s why we need more exorcists.”

*Not their real names

This article was first published as “Enter the Exorcists” in Manila Bulletin in October 2016


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.